Island University Uses Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to Research Red Tide

Published: October 27, 2016

Island University Uses Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to Research Red Tide

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – As the only university in the nation located on its very own island, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and its students and faculty are working to improve the health of the Gulf Coast by researching marine environments and their harmful algal blooms. Red tide frequents local waters this time of year, and students of the Marine Biology and Coastal and Marine System Science programs at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are taking full advantage of the otherwise negative environmental event and collecting samples using a high-tech research tool called the EcoMapper.

“At this point in the research we’re trying to discover red tide hot spots and determine what causes the blooms,” said Dr. Michael Wetz, Associate Professor of Marine Biology at A&M-Corpus Christi. “It takes a lot of time and money when collecting samples for red tide, but our EcoMapper allows us to more effectively obtain a broader view of where blooms are located in the bay.”

The EcoMapper Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is a torpedo-shaped system which scans the water to generate data. The EcoMapper can scale the surface of the water or it can travel depths and distances, and is programmed through satellite and geographical coordinates. 

Emily Cira, Ph.D. candidate in the Coastal Marine System Science Program, and Jessica Tolan, Islander alumna and research technician in Dr. Wetz’s lab, took to Corpus Christi Bay on the morning of Oct. 14 to launch the AUV in hopes of collecting data that will potentially help keep the public informed about the dangers red tide poses to both humans and wildlife.

“By measuring chlorophyll, we should be able to get a greater sense of where the red tide is located,” said Cira. “Our EcoMapper measures this indicator of algae at higher resolution than any other tool we currently have in our lab. It’s taking a reading every second during its four-hour trip along the bay, something we could never do by hand.”

Although the AUV was first introduced at the Island University as a tool to research water quality, Wetz and his students hope the EcoMapper can also assist with predicting the location and persistence of future red tide blooms.