Oceanographic Tools: ABE

ABEAutonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE)

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), programmed to operate without pilot or tether, are meeting scientists' frequent need to monitor areas over long periods of time or explore an area of seafloor in fine detail. AUVs will be required for surveying and monitoring in ocean floor observatory experiments planned as an important component of oceanographic research in the coming decades.


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ABE (Autonomous Benthic Explorer) has made approximately 80 dives to the deep seafloor, performing precisely navigated surveys at a maximum depth of 16,500 feet (5,000 meters). ABE particularly excels at near-bottom surveys in rugged seafloor terrain. Typical dives last from 16 to 34 hours, depending on the instrument payload and the bottom terrain. Typical sensor packages include scanning and multibeam sonars, CTD, current meters, and magnetometers.

The next generation of autonomous benthic explorer, called Sentry, is building on several years' experience with ABE. Its adjustable "wings" will give the vehicle greater efficiency while retaining ABE's ability to maneuver, and its lower section houses a compartment to accommodate a variety of instruments.