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Beachcombing: Hunting for red tide with algae-seeking robots (photos)




Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors in the Pacific Ocean.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Capt. Gordon Boivin, marine operations manager for USC's operations on Catalina, pilots the Miss Christi toward Catalina Island on Monday, July 29.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Arvind Pereira, a doctoral candidate in engineering at USC, takes photos of the robot he programmed. Rusalka is Russian for mermaid.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Capt. Gordon Boivin emerges from the hull of the Miss Christi after working in the ships engine room.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Mariah Rowe, the daughter of a researcher at USC's Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island, stands on the deck of the Miss Christi as it leaves the Port of Los Angeles and San Pedro in the distance.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Supreeth Subbaraya, a master's candidate in engineering at USC, carries the submersible robot down the dock at the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Supreeth Subbaraya (left) and Arvind Pereira are researchers at USC. They establish an initial link with the underwater robot.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
The submersible robot Rusalka is one of two the lab operates and it's filled with sensitive electronics for communication, navigation and scientific testing.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Supreeth Subbaraya (left) and Arvind Pereira conduct electronic tests over a satellite connection with a submersible robot from a dock on Catalina Island.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
USC researchers load a submersible robot into a skiff in preparation for a two-week mission to monitor ocean water about 100 yards below the surface.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, pilots a skiff around a submersible robot during preliminary testing on a two-week research mission.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Oberg unties a skiff that will take a submersible robot out off the coast of Catalina Island for launch.
Grant Slater/KPCC
Carl Oberg, an engineering technician for the USC Robotics Research Lab, prepares the submersible robot Rusalka for an underwater mission to monitor levels of acid and other climactic factors  in the Pacific Ocean.
Oberg pilots a skiff back toward Catalina Island and the USC Wrigley Institute research station on the island off the California coast.
Grant Slater/KPCC


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 Red tide is that naturally-occuring phenomenon during which algae take over a stretch of ocean, turning it red. At their most intense, these algal blooms produce toxins that sicken - and at times kill - sea animals.

Scientists say red tides are happening more frequently in Southern California, and with more toxicity. But they don't know why.

In the latest story in our Beachcombing series, KPCC's Sanden Totten introduces us to a robot that scientists hope will find some answers.