Cutting-edge technology gives MBARI's scientists new ways of looking at the ocean.
Their engineers have developed instruments that can measure ocean depths to a fraction
of an inch, bring deep-sea fish back to the surface alive and perform DNA analysis,
all the while withstanding corrosive salt water, crushing pressure, and near-freezing
One of the biggest challenges MBARI engineers have faced is that most of their deep-sea
instruments run on batteries that need to be replaced frequently. Another challenge
is that there is no easy way to communicate with instruments or robots located a mile
or more below the sea surface. Light and radio waves don't penetrate that deep and
sounds often get fuzzy and distorted.
In the last decade, however, MBARI engineers have begun to solve these problems by
connecting deep-sea instruments to special undersea cables. These cables supply
power for scientific instruments and carry the data from these instruments back up
to the surface or back to shore. "Cabled ocean observatories" like this are ushering
in a new era of oceanography where researchers can monitor the deep sea twenty four
hours a day in real time.
This fish trap, designed by MBARI, brings deep-sea fish back up to
the surface alive. At MBARI, oceanographers and marine biologists
work with engineers and machinists to create unique devices like this one.
MBARI's autonomous underwater vehicles are used to map the seafloor, collect data
about ocean temperature, salinity, and chemistry, and to collect water samples.
They are programmed at the sea surface and then released to follow a predetermined
path through the ocean for up to 24 hours.
This "benthic rover," about the size of a compact car, crawls along the seafloor
taking photographs and measuring the amount of oxygen consumed by small organisms
that live in the sediment. This will help researchers figure out how animals in
the deep sea get enough food to eat.