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Seventy per cent of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans; more than 80% of it is largely unexplored and barely mapped. Among the reasons for this are the heavy costs involved. Ships fitted out for this purpose cost hundreds of millions of dollars and even operating them can run up hundreds of thousands per day. The Saildrone Surveyor performs the same task as a survey vessel at a fraction of the cost and carbon footprint. During its 28-day maiden voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii, the Surveyor travelled a distance of 2,250 nautical miles and mapped 6,400 square nautical miles of the ocean floor. The saildrone uses wind and solar energy as its primary sources of energy. It is the only vessel worldwide that can perform unmanned ocean-mapping operations over a long period of time. The data it collects is intended to help provide answers to questions about climate change, offshore renewable energy, managing natural resources and safety at sea. Measuring 22 metres long and weighing 14 tonnes, the Surveyor carries a range of sophisticated acoustic instruments normally found on board large, manned survey vessels. Its sensors examine the water column and produce high-resolution maps of the ocean floor at depths of up to 7,000 metres. Following this successful proof-of-concept voyage, Saildrone is seeking to build a fleet of Surveyors. The company plans to map all of the earth’s oceans over the next ten years.

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