30/01/2015 Collaboration provides fresh view of the Arctic Ocean floor

The towed camera system has been on over 40 cruises, providing high definition view of the ocean floor. Photo: Dan Fornari

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is famous for its development of groundbreaking technology for ocean research. Some of it is coming along on a CAGE cruise in May, to give scientists a better view of the Arctic Ocean floor.

Text: Maja Sojtaric

One of the Woods Hole (WHOI) tools that will be included in a CAGE cruise in May is a high definition camera system, Tow Cam.

It will photograph the seafloor as RV Helmer Hanssen tows it. The camera can take up to 1800 images each time it is deployed. In addition to the camera other instruments will collect samples from the ocean floor and water column.

“We are very excited  to see the sites from which our samples will be taken. It is something that we have been missing in our research: the ability to see the conditions on the ocean floor” says chief scientist for the cruise Giuliana Panieri.

NASA of the ocean research

Dr. Dan Fornari is senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Photo: WHOI

Dr. Daniel Fornari is senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Photo: WHOI

Dr. Daniel Fornari, senior scientist at WHOI who developed the camera, visited CAGE recently. He gave a talk about the big range of submersible technology that the institution has developed over the years.

“WHOI is like NASA of the ocean research. Our primary task is to serve the scientific community with the equipment they need, to do the science they want.”

Submersibles, like Human Occupied Vehicle Alvin that was the first to survey the wreck of RMS Titanic, are high tech developments that WHOI is famous for. They also develop robotics, remotely operated and automated submersble vehicles for places where people cannot go: such as deep sea volcano eruptions and the source of the Deep Horizon oil spill.

But they also create simpler tools that can produce good data. Such as the Tow Cam.

“NASA has a bigger budget than us, so they can instigate the development of new technology. We often use our engineering knowhow to adapt the technology developed by others.”

” We try to keep it simple. The Tow Cam is based on regular Nikon digital cameras, and supplies us with high definition images of the environment. The system is also flexible, allowing us to put sensors and samplers of different kind on it.”

CAGE scientists are going to use the Tow Cam on the Vestnesa ridge, in the Arctic Ocean. This is the part of the Arctic Ocean with active methane gas release, with huge plumes rising from the ocean floor.

Scientists are among other things interested in life that evolves in extreme environments on the ocean floor, where sun´s rays do not reach, and photosynthesis is impossible. But chemosynthesis is possible, and makes life thrive close to methane plumes. ( Chemosynthesis is also happening close to the hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, beautifully explained in the video below.)

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