If you see a strange looking aircraft zigzagging  down the shore, don’t worry, it’s not a flying saucer.

The Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Rutgers University and the federal EPA have launched a research submersible known as the Slocum glider off Sandy Hook.

The glider, which looks like a yellow torpedo with swept-back wings, will roam the waters off the Garden state for the next two weeks, gathering important clues about the health of the ocean.

The craft will be taking rapid-fire readings of dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature at various depths. The data will then be analyzed by DEP scientists as the agency works to better understand why the ocean off New Jersey tends to have low levels of oxygen, particularly in the summer.

Jersey DEP Commissioner Bob Martin says “the continued good health of New Jersey’s coastal waters is critical to the state’s more than 38 billion dollar tourism industry, the DEP is committed to comprehensive, ecosystem-based studies and analyses of all facets of the health of the ocean. This research by the Slocum glider is a critical component to improving our understanding of the ocean and its natural processes.”

For several years, the waters off New Jersey have been listed as having low levels of dissolved oxygen, particularly in the summer, but the reasons for this are not fully understood. As a result, the federal EPA lists the ocean off New Jersey as impaired. But that may just be a result of limited data.

A recent DEP – Rutgers study concluded various life-forms  at the bottom of the ocean near the coastline  – such as invertebrates, mollusks and worms – are healthy despite low-oxygen conditions. The study further suggests that waters off New Jersey should not be considered as being impaired as a result of low dissolved oxygen.

For more information on the Slocum glider and to follow its progress, visit: http://marine.rutgers.edu/cool/glider/webpage/glidersite.htm