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  • Article
    Autonomous tracking of salinity-intrusion fronts by a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle
    (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2022-04-18) Zhang, Yanwu ; Yoder, Noa ; Kieft, Brian ; Kukulya, Amy L. ; Hobson, Brett W. ; Ryan, Svenja ; Gawarkiewicz, Glen G.
    Shoreward intrusions of anomalously salty water along the continental shelf of the Middle Atlantic Bight are often observed in spring and summer. Exchange of heat, nutrients, and carbon across the salinity-intrusion front has a significant impact on the marine ecosystem and fisheries. In this article, we developed a method of using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to detect a salinity-intrusion front and track the front's movement. Autonomous front detection is based on the different vertical structures of salinity in the two distinct water types: the vertical difference of salinity is large in the intruding saltier water because of the salinity “tongue” at mid-depth, but is small in the nearshore fresher water due to absence of the salinity anomaly. Every time the AUV crosses and detects the front, the vehicle makes a turn at an oblique angle to cross the front, thus zigzagging through the front to map the frontal zone. The AUV's zigzags sweep back and forth to track the front as it moves over time. From June 25 to 30, 2021, a Tethys-class long-range AUV mapped and tracked a salinity-intrusion front on the southern New England shelf. The frontal tracking revealed the salinity intrusion's 3-D structure and temporal evolution with unprecedented detail.