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Underwater Paradigm Shift

How advancing technologies are changing the way scientists study the ocean

People are always looking for the latest technology with the newest phone, computer, or coffee maker to make their lives easier. The same holds true in marine science. Researchers and engineers are continually working on the next robot or software to help them understand the ocean and all organisms that call it home. Traditional oceanographic research methods typically require a ship, sonar, specialist instruments, and a research crew to collect and preserve samples. Most observations of subsurface phenomena from the surface of a ship are fairly restrictive. Satellite and acoustical instruments have been useful in expanding our ability to ‘see’ the depths but much remains hidden below the surface. "We can see the surface of the ocean using remote sensing, but when it comes to knowing what is going on under water, then it is very difficult. However, this is beginning to change" explains Dr. João Borges de Sousa of the University of Porto.

One group at the forefront of this shift is Schmidt Ocean Institute. Cofounded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, Schmidt Ocean Institute is creating a space for scientists to both study the ocean as well as test and experiment with new technologies aimed at advancing the pace of ocean science. Expeditions aboard the research vessel Falkor frequently carry an array of robots such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs), gliders and the Institute’s 4,500-meter capable remotely operated vehicle (ROV) SuBastian. The research teams that come aboard Falkor use the newest technologies to redefine how marine research is conducted.

Schmidt Ocean Institute prides itself on being at the forefront of innovative marine research. The development of technology is one of the organization’s main areas of focus. Ten separate Falkor expeditions in 2018 have been completed with the mission of understanding the ocean using innovative technologies. Each science and engineering team that comes aboard applies their research to solving important questions about ocean health, ranging from such wide interests as tracking the mysterious behavior of white sharks to the mapping of critical deep reef structures.

The scientists and engineers participating in research on Falkor are discovering, experimenting, and developing new ways to understand more about ocean cycles, and challenging limitations in how we study and explore the ocean. Along with testing new oceanographic equipment and using multiple robotic systems simultaneously, research teams have created new software programs and approaches to data retrieval and processing. "Everything we send into the ocean to make observations or measurements requires development, redevelopment, and fine-tuning, no matter what,’ said Dr. Andrew Babbin, a principal investigator on an expedition earlier this year. “The systems being developed are not only high technology but contain the intelligence of the scientists that created them.”

To get a better understanding of the types of technologies and projects being implemented, we review some of the exciting expeditions that have taken place this year.

Continue reading article in the November/December issue for ECO magazine by following this link.

Words by Carlie Wiener, Schmidt Ocean Institute

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