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2020 Ron Brown Excellence In Innovation Award



Noah Lawrence-Slavas

Adrienne Sutton

Stacy Maenner Jones

Randy Bott

Christian Meinig


Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The group created a robust, reliable Autonomous Surface Vehicle CO2 sensor system (ASVCO2) for long-term deployments, capable of surviving the forces of 50-foot waves, 80 mph winds, and collisions with icebergs in the Southern Ocean. NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory) worked with Saildrone Inc. through a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) over several years to test and modify the platform, and develop the ASVCO2 so it could collect robust measurements while the Saildrone reached peak speeds of 8 knots in high-wind conditions.

The Saildrone and ASVCO2 system completed the first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica. It collected more than 4,750 air and seawater CO2 measurements over 8 months (including the Southern winter), when ship-based measurements that inform our understanding of Southern Ocean CO2 uptake are severely limited. This mission provided information that alters our understanding of the Southern Ocean as both a source and a sink for atmospheric CO2.

The mission successfully deployed an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) around Antarctica in both summer and winter conditions. This technological first provides previously uncollectable data for inclusion in models of the global carbon cycle, and a fundamental change in our understanding of the ocean’s role in climate change.

The landmark accomplishment will ultimately increase observations and understanding of weather, climate, and ecosystem processes in remote, harsh, and rapidly changing oceanic regions. Preliminary results suggest that there is strong outgassing of CO2 in the austral winter; this finding upends our understanding of the Southern Ocean as a sink for atmospheric carbon.  This public-private partnership demonstrated the deep scientific reach of a Federal research lab, and the ability of American industry to manufacture, test, and pilot world-class USVs.

This remarkable achievement truly embodies the spirit and standards held up by Ron Brown.