Underwater robot from Scripps aids in Santa Barbara oil spill

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LA JOLLA, Calif. - An underwater robot from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is aiding in the Santa Barbara oil spill.

An onshore pipeline in Santa Barbara ruptured and leaked more than 100,000 gallons of crude on coastal lands and into the ocean, the oil company said Thursday.

The robots, referred to as “spray gliders,” can dive 3,000 feet under water.  The gliders are able to go anywhere and are directed through a built in GPS system similar to a smartphone.

There is currently one glider approximately 30-miles away from the oil spill.

“It's 7-feet-long, weighs about 100-pounds,” said Dan Rudnick, professor at Scripps. “It flies on wings.”

The spray glider's purpose is to take temperature, salinity and ocean current measurements. The data is collected and fed back via satellite.

“You can think of it sort of like the National Weather Service. It predicts the wind in the atmosphere and we use this data to predict models for weather in the ocean,” said Rudnick.

With the data, crews are able to gauge where the oil is likely to flow next depending on the ocean’s current.

Scripps has five underwater robots dispatched near the California coast at all times.