Persistent ocean monitoring with underwater gliders: Adapting sampling resolution

Ryan N. Smith*, Mac Schwager, Stephen L. Smith, Burton H. Jones, Daniela Rus, Gaurav S. Sukhatme

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Ocean processes are dynamic and complex and occur on multiple spatial and temporal scales. To obtain a synoptic view of such processes, ocean scientists collect data over long time periods. Historically, measurements were continually provided by fixed sensors, e.g., moorings, or gathered from ships. Recently, an increase in the utilization of autonomous underwater vehicles has enabled a more dynamic data acquisition approach. However, we still do not utilize the full capabilities of these vehicles. Here we present algorithms that produce persistent monitoring missions for underwater vehicles by balancing path following accuracy and sampling resolution for a given region of interest, which addresses a pressing need among ocean scientists to efficiently and effectively collect high-value data. More specifically, this paper proposes a path planning algorithm and a speed control algorithm for underwater gliders, which together give informative trajectories for the glider to persistently monitor a patch of ocean. We optimize a cost function that blends two competing factors: maximize the information value along the path while minimizing deviation from the planned path due to ocean currents. Speed is controlled along the planned path by adjusting the pitch angle of the underwater glider, so that higher resolution samples are collected in areas of higher information value. The resulting paths are closed circuits that can be repeatedly traversed to collect long-term ocean data in dynamic environments. The algorithms were tested during sea trials on an underwater glider operating off the coast of southern California, as well as in Monterey Bay, California. The experimental results show improvements in both data resolution and path reliability compared to previously executed sampling paths used in the respective regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)714-741
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Field Robotics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications


Dive into the research topics of 'Persistent ocean monitoring with underwater gliders: Adapting sampling resolution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this