Using mine detectors to fight climate change

A team led by Douglas Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology at Dalhousie University, has been putting old submarines to new use.

As reported in Audubon magazine, Wallace’s team retrofitted an unmanned submersible mine detector to measure how much carbon dioxide the sea is absorbing from the atmosphere.

Much of the exchange between air and water happens in ocean eddies—large whirlpools up to 60 miles across—far from shore. Until now, no underwater research vehicles were powerful enough to hurtle through the swirling waters.

This is where the Dorado comes in.

A 27-foot, unmanned submersible vehicle formerly used to detect underwater mines in conflict zones all over the world, the Dorado is strong and stable enough to provide detailed measurements from those places in the ocean where the most carbon is absorbed.

The submersible is scheduled for testing in early 2015, and will transmit its results in real time, potentially unlocking the mysteries of the changing dispersion, absorption and exchange of carbon in stretches of ocean previously inaccessible.

Wallace and his team will use their findings to populate climate models, creating better forecasts for sea-level rise and disruptions in the marine food chain’s increasingly acidic waters.