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Autonomous & Adaptive Oceanographic Front Tracking On Board Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Petillo, S., H. Schmidt, P.F.J. Lermusiaux, D. Yoerger and A. Balasuriya, 2015. Autonomous & Adaptive Oceanographic Front Tracking On Board Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. Proceedings of IEEE OCEANS'15 Conference, Genoa, Italy, 18-21 May, 2015.

Oceanic fronts, similar to atmospheric fronts, occur at the interface of two fluid (water) masses of varying characteristics. In regions such as these where there are quantifiable physical, chemical, or biological changes in the ocean environment, it is possible—with the proper instrumentation—to track, or map, the front boundary.

In this paper, the front is approximated as an isotherm that is tracked autonomously and adaptively in 2D (horizontal) and 3D space by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) running MOOS-IvP autonomy. The basic, 2D (constant depth) front tracking method developed in this work has three phases: detection, classification, and tracking, and results in the AUV tracing a zigzag path along and across the front. The 3D AUV front tracking method presented here results in a helical motion around a central axis that is aligned along the front in the horizontal plane, tracing a 3D path that resembles a slinky stretched out along the front.

To test and evaluate these front tracking methods (implemented as autonomy behaviors), virtual experiments were conducted with simulated AUVs in a spatiotemporally dynamic MIT MSEAS ocean model environment of the Mid-Atlantic Bight region, where a distinct temperature front is present along the shelfbreak. A number of performance metrics were developed to evaluate the performance of the AUVs running these front tracking behaviors, and the results are presented herein.