The world’s oceans are the last frontier for discovery on Earth. They have gone largely unexplored throughout history not for lack of curiosity, but due to their vast size and crushing depths. Pioneering work done by ocean explorers, marine researchers, archaeologists and oceanographers over the last few decades have brought us much closer to understanding what lies beneath the ocean, but there is much left to discover. Marine research is one area of ocean exploration which has driven the development of underwater viewing devices, from bathyspheres in the 1930’s to Human Occupied Vehicles (HOVs) such as Woods Hole’s Alvin commissioned in the 1960’s, to today’s most modern Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) such as Woods Hole’s Nereus, which reached a depth of over 35,000 feet in the Mariana Trench in 2009. In each case, the goal has been to go deeper and capture more photos and video of the unknown depths. The dangers of deep water exploration have led most researchers to rely on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) which allow explorers to do their work from the safety of the surface. Included below are three amazing discoveries made by marine researchers using underwater technology.
1. Discovery of Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents
(photo credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
In 1977 Richard Von Herzen and Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered hydrothermal vents for the first time during an expedition to explore the Galapagos Rift. The team was measuring deep ocean temperatures by towing a research sled deep under water, and when the temperature reading spiked, they hadn’t just discovered the existence of hydrothermal vents, but to their surprise, they found a vast ecosystem of deep sea animals living around the vents. Like a deep sea oasis in the middle of a deep, dark desert, the hydrothermal vents provided a constant source of hydrogen sulfide, ejected from the earth’s crust through fissures and used by industrious bacteria to create energy by means of chemosythesis. By contrast, most life on earth gets its energy by means of photosynthesis.
2. Discovery of Bone-eating (Osedax) Worms
(Photo credit: Monterey Bay Research Institute)
In 2002 the Monterey Bay Research Institute discovered a new genus of deep-sea worms, dubbed “Zombie Worms” located in the Monterey Canyon. Osedax worms were found colonizing whale falls, the carcasses of dead whales which have settled to the deep ocean floor to decompose. Osedax worms embed themselves in whale bones and bore holes by secreting acid to reach nutrients within the bones. Osedax lack a mouth and a stomach, and completely rely on symbiotic bacteria to extract nutrients from the whale bones. Whale falls are an uncommon occurrence on the ocean floor, but for the most opportunistic and prolific microscopic life, no opportunity is left unused.
3. Discovery of Ghostlike Octopod
(Photo Credit: NOAA)
In 2016 the NOAA Okeanos Explorer discovered what is thought to be a new species of octopod which resembles a ghost, with a translucent white body and stubby arms. The photos and videos of this discovery are just one of dozens captured during the Hohonu Moana Hawaii Deep Water Expedition. Missions such as this create so much data that marine biologists will be analyzing them for years for new discoveries. What’s most exciting is that modern oceanic exploration has become a group activity, by utilizing telepresence and live streaming, experts and the public can drop in on underwater discoveries while they are happening, paving the way for the next generation of explorers to get involved and make a difference.
Each of these three underwater research missions relied on deep sea exploration technology, specifically, ROVs equipped with cameras. Modern day marine researchers have the tools to dive deep and capture stunning images of what lies on the ocean floor. With every new mission comes a chance for new underwater discoveries.
Hydroelectric dams are impressive in both size and scale. Some of the tallest dams stretch over 300 meters tall and the longest dams span nearly 4 miles wide. The single largest reservoir in the world holds 180 cubic kilometers of water, which is roughly 47 trillion gallons, enough to provide the entire United States with water for nearly five months! It’s no wonder that hydro power accounts for 20% of the world’s energy. With such large structures comes a serious need for underwater inspections and preventative maintenance. Inspection class Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) offer a great deal of support for routine dam inspections, including inspecting Face of Dam, Heel and Toe of Dam, Water Intakes, Trash Racks, Penstocks, Turbines, and Lower Outlets.
nDams provide a set of unique challenges for inspection. It’s a dangerous environment, with deep water, fast moving water, turbid outflows, turbines and other entanglements. It’s extremely dangerous and sometimes impossible for divers to inspect these areas while the dam is operational. Only ROVs with the most hydrodynamic design and highest levels of thrust can overcome the demands of dam inspections. Typically, an AC power system is required to keep the vehicle in continuous operation for long shifts or for heavy thruster use to counteract the current, which would otherwise deplete a DC battery system.
ROVs come equipped with a variety of sensors which are extremely helpful for dam inspections. Features such as HD Cameras, High Intensity LED Lights, Sonar, Laser Scaler, Thickness Gauge and Grabber Arm are used heavily. The Camera paired with LED Lights are used for visual inspection and documentation, and are especially useful in deep, dark waters along the bottom of the dam. Sonar is a critical tool for successful navigation in very turbid water where water clarity is minimal. A Laser Scaler emits two lasers at a fixed width, acting like a measuring stick, allowing for accurate measurement of objects by simply looking at them with an ROV. A Non-destructive thickness gauge is used to check the integrity of coatings and measuring corrosion. And a grabber arm can be used to clean trash racks of debris, or to retrieve foreign objects from the water around a dam.
By utilizing inspection class ROVs for dam inspections it eliminates the risk to divers, reduces the down time of dam operations, provides the ability to increase the frequency of inspections and perform preventative maintenance faster while reducing the per-inspection cost.