Ocean outfall plume characterization using an autonomous underwater vehicle

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A monitoring mission to map and characterize the Point Loma Ocean Outfall (PLOO) wastewater plume using an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) was performed on 3 March 2011. The mobility of an AUV provides a significant advantage in surveying discharge plumes over traditional cast-based methods, and when combined with optical and oceanographic sensors, provides a capability for both detecting plumes and assessing their mixing in the near and far-fields. Unique to this study is the measurement of Colored Dissolved Organic Matter (CDOM) in the discharge plume and its application for quantitative estimates of the plume's dilution. AUV mission planning methodologies for discharge plume sampling, plume characterization using onboard optical sensors, and comparison of observational data to model results are presented. The results suggest that even under variable oceanic conditions, properly planned missions for AUVs equipped with an optical CDOM sensor in addition to traditional oceanographic sensors, can accurately characterize and track ocean outfall plumes at higher resolutions than cast-based techniques.

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