University of South Florida

USF College of Marine Science


Campers use Saildrone to explore the mysteries of the Southern Ocean!

Row of Saildrones at Saildrone Headquarters.

Row of Saildrones at Saildrone Headquarters.

Lab rotation: Saildrones and Oceanography
Lab leaders: Nicola Guisewhite & Dr. Nancy Williams
Peer counselors: Madie Taylor & Sage Muentes

Written by, Nicola Guisewhite, Lab Leader

As a key contributor to heat and carbon transport around our globe, the Southern Ocean plays a large role in regulating Earth’s global climate.  However, despite its importance, the Southern Ocean is one of the most understudied regions on the planet.  Surrounding Antarctica, this ocean is far from any major ports and cities, and has naturally high wind speeds and massive waves that make it difficult and dangerous to sample.  

The Saildrones and Oceanography Lab introduced the girls to Saildrone, a new uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) designed to go where ships can not and built to survive the dangerous conditions of the Southern Ocean.  Created by Dr. Nancy Williams, Dr. Veronica Tamsitt, and Nicola Guisewhite in the Williams Lab at USF CMS, this lab taught the girls how the Southern Ocean plays an important role in regulating Earth’s climate, how we depend on ecosystems that live in this region, and how scientists can use technologies like Saildrone to improve our understanding and continue to explore the wonders of the Southern Ocean.

In 2019, Saildrone completed the first uncrewed circumnavigation of Antarctica.  Thanks to Saildrone, the girls were able to go and explore the Southern Ocean, virtually that is!  The girls were introduced to the Python coding language, and used an interactive Jupyter Notebook hosted online to read data from Saildrone’s 2019 record breaking mission.  They created maps and data plots just like those that Dr. Williams’ Lab group uses for their research.  The girls explored sensor data ranging from sea surface temperature, to seawater oxygen concentrations, to wave height.  They worked together to customize and interpret the figures they created, allowing them to draw conclusions about relationships between ocean variables in space and in time.

After creating plots using Saildrone’s data, Jenn Virskus, Content Manager for SAILDRONE, Inc., gave the girls a virtual tour of SAILDRONE’s Headquarters located in Alameda, CA and shared information about paid internship opportunities.  While some may know the gargantuan warehouse as a filming location for The Matrix, it now houses SAILDRONE’s engineering and manufacturing operations and serves as a holding area for rows of USVs waiting to be deployed.  The girls virtually walked the warehouse floor with Jenn, giving them a better idea for the various sizes and types of Saildrones that are made at the warehouse. We hope we've not only introduced the girls to different kinds of oceanography, but inspired them with the new resources they will get to explore as future scientists! 

View the slideshow below.

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Mission Statement

Our blue planet faces a suite of challenges and opportunities for understanding and innovation. Our mission is to advance understanding of the interconnectivity of ocean systems and human-ocean interactions using a cross-disciplinary approach, to empower the next workforce of the blue economy with a world-class education experience, and to share our passion for a healthy environment and science-informed decision-making with community audiences near and far.