Drones have become infamous for their use as weapons, but a far more altruistic purpose awaits these unmanned robots. Scientists from the Surfzone Coastal Oil Pathways Experiment are set to deploy 200 “drifters” equipped with GPS off the coast of Fort Walton, Florida, where they will be monitored by two drones outfitted with GoPro cameras. The project is part of a $500 million enterprise funded in part by oil giant BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon debacle.

carthe, oil spill, hydrocarbon transport, ocean, water column

According to Grist, the three-week experiment launched this Monday by the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport for Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE) will collect data for a construct a detailed computer model of water-borne pollutants. The sensors will release a special dye, and be tracked by two drones carrying GoPro cameras. Since the drones can only stay in the air for an hour at a stretch, they will be supported by a kite also holding a camera.

With the understanding of how oil or other pollutants move in the ocean, emergency responders will be better prepared to deploy their cleanup tools. Keeping tabs on marine currents can also predict how animal larvae and plankton travel and bring insight into the lives of creatures critical to the Gulf Coast economy will fare.

Over 30 scientists from the University of Miami in collaboration with 200 high school students will conduct the research. While no one hopes the information they collect will need to be called upon any time soon, it is always best to be prepared in the event of a disaster.

+ Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport for Hydrocarbon in the Environment (CARTHE)

Via Grist

Images via CARTHE and Flickr user Kris Krug