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SWATH Boat Commissioned in Lake Tahoe Science Mission

SWATH Boat Commissioned in Lake Tahoe Science Mission

In October, students in the SCU Robotic Systems Laboratory conducted a marine geology mission in Lake Tahoe with the Lab’s new SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) boat. The deployment was the first science mission for the Lab’s autonomous SWATH boat, an event that involved four years of development work by more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students.

The Lake Tahoe student team included graduate students Paul Mahecek, Thomas Adamek, Vincent Howard, and Steve Li, all of whom worked through the past summer to develop an autonomous navigation system for the boat and to install a multi-beam sonar system that allows shallow-water bathymetric maps to be created. The boat uses an innovative twin-hull mechanical design that improves the boat’s stability in waves. In addition, a suite of high-precision sensors measures the boat’s position and dynamic properties in order to properly interpret and resolve the sonar data, thereby improving map quality.

In Tahoe, the SCU students worked with a science team from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) and operated the boat to create a high-resolution map of a series of boulder ridges on the Tahoe Shelf along the northwestern shore of the lake. These ridges are proof of a tsunami wave that occurred in the lake during the McKinney Bay landslide thousands of years ago. Using the Lab’s Triton underwater robot during a series of dives in 2005 and 2006, the SCU-USGS-UNR team discovered these ridges, representing a highly significant scientific finding as the first-ever proof of tsunami in the Lake. Student Paul Mahacek, who has been active on the project since its inception, commented, “When you put so much time and effort into projects like these, it’s great just to get them running. But it is an amazing feeling to get them operating in the field and generating valuable science data.”

The team continues to improve the boat by adding new control systems, improved wireless communications, and several innovative autonomous functions. In 2010, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA will be sponsoring the SCU team in order to conduct a series of mapping missions along the West Coast and in Alaska.

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