Gliders/Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Gliders monitor water currents, temperature, and conditions that reveal effects from storms, impacts on fisheries, and the quality of our water. This information creates a more complete picture of what is happening in the ocean, as well as trends scientists might be able to detect. The robots collect information from deep water, as well as at the surface, at lower cost and less risk than ever before. As scientists deploy more gliders, they are revolutionizing how we observe our ocean. These robots propel us closer to that revolution.


5 types of Gliders: Slocum, Gulper, Spray, Seaglider and Wave

There are a number of different types of Gliders in use throughout the world’s oceans.


Glider, Autonomous Underwater Vehicle

Gliders are one type of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle


The warming of our planet directly impacts ocean temperature and how the ocean transports heat. Scientists can draw conclusions about our climate as they learn more about ocean conditions. Gliders are assuming a prominent and growing role in ocean science due to their unique capabilities for collecting data in remote locations, safely and at relatively low cost.

Glider underwater flight profile

Glider underwater flight profile

Each glider, based on its purpose and design, uses different techniques to propel itself forward.  What these gliders share is the ability to travel far distances, over long periods without servicing. It is these characteristics along with advancements in sensor technologies that are making gliders more and more important as tools for collecting ocean data.

Scarlet Night's Cross-Atlantic Journey

Plague  - Scarlet Night's Journey from new Jersey to Spain

Plaque in Baiona, Spain, depicting Scarlet Night's journey from New Jersey to Spain

Scarlet Knight is an electric glider. That means it relied on battery power to do its work. But it didn’t use a lot. The robot crossed the ocean using the equivalent energy of about four Christmas tree lights. Scarlet Knight pumped water in through its nose to weigh itself down and dive into deeper water. To go back up, the glider pumped the water out again, causing it to weigh less and float toward the surface.

Program Update that shares the landing events of Scarlet Knight in Baiona, Spain, 8-9 December and reflect on the importance of this new technology:
Z-Gram, 12 December, 2009 (pdf)





Collectively U.S. IOOS regional and industry partners have flown over 15,000 glider days in the past three years.  Examples include:

  • The Gulf Coast Ocean Observing System, GCOOS sponsored a cooperative glider demonstration by USF and Mote Marine Laboratory to study Harmful Algal Blooms on the west Florida Shelf,  an ocean acidification study by USM/NOAA/Liquid Robotics off the Mississippi R. delta and recently established a Gulf Glider Task Team.

  • In the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS), gliders have been conducting regional surveys of the mid-Atlantic Bight.  The existence of the mid-Atlantic glider observatory has provided a unique test-bed for cyber-infrastructure tools being developed as part of the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatory Initiative (OOI).  MARACOOS has also teamed up with the Caribbean Regional Association to study the mixing processes in the coastal waters offshore Puerto Rico.

  • The Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System uses gliders to provide input to the Hawaii subsurface ocean model.  The glider provides the only measure of temperature and salinity below the mixed layer.

  • In 2010 the Alaska Ocean Observing system partner University of Alaska-Fairbanks flew 69 days of glider missions, covering 800 kilometers, to study the dynamics of the polar oceans.

  • Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System and Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System gliders have been used to augment the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations and continuously monitor coastal velocity, temperature, salinity and phytoplankton, and measure the influence of El Niño off the California coast.

  • The Great Lakes Observing System has provided funds to support an upgraded environmental sensor package carried aboard a glider system operating in Lake Superior by the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

  • The Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems is incorporating a glider into its new buoy array system launched in 2010 and has experimented with acoustic modems to track fish.


Glider Deployments

Challenger Mission: Rutgers

Mid-Atlantic, MARACOOS deployments

Pacific Northwest, NANOOS/University of Washington

Great Lakes, GLOS

Gulf of Mexico, GCOOS

Southern California, SCCOOS

Central and Northern California, CeNCOOS

Workshops and Meetings

U.S. IOOS National Glider Strategy Development Workshop, Aug 1-3, 2012

The National Glider Strategy Development Workshop will be held at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD, La Jolla, CA. This workshop is organized both to frame priority requirements for broader coordination and collaboration of glider operations and to draft an outline for a national strategy. At the close of the workshop, authors will be assigned sections of the outline with a goal of assembling a full draft prior to the Fall AGU Meeting.

Workshop Details

National Glider Asset Map

Launch the Glider Asset Viewer and click on the asset symbols for additional information.

Glider Asset Map

Gliders in Action

Regional Glider Operations 2008 - 2012 (Zoom in pdf)

Visiting Rutgers Univ.

Learn about Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator for NOAA, and Zdenka Willis, Director of the U.S. IOOS Program Office, meeting with Rutgers University science students and their professors during an IOOS Regional member site visit.