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Cefas Scientists Complete World’s First “On-Demand” Autonomous Marine Water Sampling

United Kingdom, September 26, 2016

In what is believed to be a world’s first in the scientific community, Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, UK) and Liquid Robotics®, USA have successfully deployed, tested and recovered a remotely piloted Wave Glider® which allowed scientists to measure water characteristics and selectively collect samples in near real-time.

The Wave Glider called “Lyra” was deployed in the southern North Sea about 60km off Lincolnshire, UK coastline by RV Cefas Endeavour and spent 48 days at sea before being recovered successfully by Trinity House’s vessel Alert, 20 miles off Lowestoft. Whilst deployed, the Wave Glider was remotely piloted 24/7 by the Liquid Robotics Operations Team from their California headquarters almost 9000 km away and covered over 2700km at sea.

The integrated Cefas Water Sampler allowed scientists to collect 11 samples, on demand, over the duration of the mission by sending commands over the Iridium satellite network. This meant that samples could be collected in areas of particular interest, in contrast to the previous mission in which sampling was done at pre-set times regardless of the route taken.

Sampling helps scientists assess the health of our oceans. Harmful algal blooms can lead to fish mortality events and cause toxicity in shellfish species which, if consumed, can be dangerous to human health. Using experimental daily satellite images of a harmful algal bloom (courtesy of NEODAAS, Plymouth Marine Laboratory), Cefas scientists navigated “Lyra” to a small suspected bloom of Karenia sp. north of the Dogger Bank. Once in the area of the bloom, scientists monitored the near-real time data from the on-board chlorophyll sensor to confirm its presence. They then commanded the water sampler on “Lyra” to take two samples that have since been confirmed to contain the phytoplankton Karenia sp.

Dr. David Pearce, Cefas Marine Observations Systems Manager and in command of this mission said, “The ability to collect samples on demand enables us to better target areas of scientific interest, potentially allowing us to collect specific samples more efficiently. This mission was a big success. We demonstrated that there is great potential in smart solutions for monitoring ocean conditions and I am excited about the future for autonomous vehicles, such as the Wave Glider, as innovative ways to meet our scientific and monitoring goals.”

“The Wave Glider is a highly adaptable, unmanned surface vehicle and mission tests like this allow us to work with scientists to provide data for near real-time decision making,” said Daniel J. Middleton, Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Business Development, Liquid Robotics. “Our Operations team remotely piloted the Wave Glider around obstacles and in strong currents to areas of scientific interest. This is an excellent demonstration of our technology and we are proud of the mission outcome and partnership with Cefas.”

This first test of the remote triggering of the Cefas Water Sampler has been a success. The area in which the Wave Glider operated successfully was extremely challenging for an autonomous surface vehicle. During the trip, “Lyra” picked up transmission of over 350 ships, was closely inspected by two oil/gas industry standby vessels and navigated through many of the southern North Sea gas fields/platforms. “Lyra” also had to navigate around many shallow sandbanks in the southern North Sea and cope with strong tidal currents off East Anglia on her way back to Lowestoft.

Cefas scientists are now planning to use the Cefas Water Sampler on additional upcoming “Lyra” missions. The sampler will be used to pump out “tracer” material. When combined with the on-board sensors, this extends the research applications of this innovative technology to, for example, mapping localised areas of sea surface. “Lyra” expands Cefas’ research and monitoring capabilities in areas such as water quality monitoring, fisheries assessments, aquaculture health and ambient noise measurement.



About Cefas

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) provides world class science for the marine and freshwater environment. Cefas is an Executive Agency of Defra and the UK’s most diverse centre for applied marine and freshwater science and research, covering an unrivalled breadth of specialist areas to provide a fully integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to our customers’ needs. For more information about Cefas visit and follow @CefasGovUK

For more information about Cefas’ Wave Glider please contact


About Liquid Robotics

Liquid Robotics designs and manufactures Wave Gliders, the first wave and solar powered unmanned ocean robots. With our partners we address many of the planet’s greatest challenges, by transforming how to assess, monitor, and protect the ocean. We solve critical problems for defense, commercial, and science customers. Visit to learn more.


About the Liquid Robotics Wave Glider

The Wave Glider is the industry-leading, long-duration, unmanned surface vehicle. It revolutionizes how we explore and understand the world’s oceans by gathering data in ways or locations previously too costly or challenging to operate. Powered by waves and solar energy, the Wave Glider allows organizations to build a network of sensors to better understand all aspects of ocean activity.


About the Cefas Integrated Water Sampler

Originally developed by Cefas engineers to be housed in the SAHFOS continuous plankton recorder, the Integrated Water Sampler has since been deployed many times on Cefas environmental monitoring SmartBuoys. The water sampler comes in two configurations, the original 11-port unit and a larger 15-port device and typically stores samples in clean parenteral nutrition medical bags. It is designed to be used near the surface down to a depth of about 10m. The sampler is fitted with a purge port to minimise cross-contamination. The sample size is programmable and sampling times can be set up pre-deployment. The water sampler is integrated on “Lyra” in a way to take advantage of the Wave Glider’s two-way satellite communication. Sample collection can therefore be triggered remotely. This configuration can also be used to pump out a “tracer” material.


About Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful algal blooms can, and do, have significant impacts world-wide. Some are toxin producers which can accumulate in bivalve shellfish as they filter feed, causing them to be toxic to human consumers. Others cause “red tides” or produce foams or scums on the surface and on beaches. Karenia is known to produce toxins, which can cause significant mortalities in fish, particularly caged, farmed fish which are unable to escape the bloom.

Cefas' Wave Glider Lyra

Cefas’ Wave Glider “Lyra” secured on deck of THV Alert following recovery after a successful 48-day mission in the North Sea.

Liquid Robotics® and Wave Glider® are registered trademarks of Liquid Robotics, Inc.