LINCOLN CITY — “We got a call that there was a torpedo floating in the ocean,” said Lincoln City Police Department (LCPD) Sergeant Randy Weaver.
While the officers responding to the call on Saturday, Jan. 10, had reason to believe it could have been a torpedo, when they approached it became clear it was not. Closer examination revealed that it was actually an Oregon State University (OSU) research glider, a type of underwater drone worth approximately a quarter of a million dollars.
“The whole beach was hazardous,” said Weaver, with strong wind and the exceptionally high tide making retrieval difficult. “Waves were coming all the way up to the bank.”
North Lincoln Fire & Rescue assisted LCPD, providing the muscle necessary to retrieve the glider.
Jonathan Whitefield, an OSU faculty research assistant, explained that the yellow glider, along with the blue buoy that also washed ashore on Saturday, belong to Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a multi-institutional project by OSU, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Washington. OOI, funded by the National Science Foundation, provides data to researchers.
“Basically [the glider] is one of a fleet of about a dozen that we operate,” said Whitefield of the yellow glider that was missing its wings when recovered.
“We have seven moored instrument platforms on the Washington/Oregon coast,” he said.
The blue buoy that washed up north of the jetty at Nye Beach last Saturday was one of the moored buoys.
“A mile from Yaquina Head, the waves were such that it broke free and ended up on Nye Beach,” Whitefield said.
Whitefield noted that it wasn’t the king tide that caused the buoy and the glider to break free and go off course, it was the wind and waves from the storms.
“The gliders measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, water speed and the amount of marine plants (phytoplankton), as well as the amount of light coming through the water,” explained Whitefield.
The buoys, like the gliders, take oceanographic data, but more of it to include pH and carbon dioxide.
“The yellow gliders move between buoys,” Whitefield said, and the collected data is made publicly available at oceanobservatories.org.
“Ocean acidification and hypoxia (extremely low oxygen levels) are a concern in Oregon’s coastal waters,” Whitefield noted. “The data collected by our buoys and our gliders are an important part of understanding the changes that are occurring.
“We are the ones gathering and recording the data. We’re not the people explicitly doing the research and finding solutions,” Whitefield clarified, adding that the collected data is useful to scientists across many disciplines and in many countries throughout the world.
“There’s some superficial damage to the outside. I just finished cleaning the sand off it yesterday,” Whitefield said of the glider, which will be sent back to the manufacturer to ensure it is in working order before being re-deployed.
The recovered glider was one of two that went missing. Whitefield said they know the second glider drifted further off course and believe it was likely bashed by rocks. If spotted, he asks that people call the number printed on the glider.