Image: © 2007 MBARI
A high tech, deep sea robot named the Benthic Rover has been crawling around the ocean floors off the coast of California, collecting data on life at the bottom of the sea. The findings not only help scientists to understand more about how life exists at these depths, but can also be important for our understanding of how warming temperatures is affecting marine ecosystems. The Benthic Rover is a project by a team of engineers and scientists led by MBARI project engineer Alana Sherman and marine biologist Ken Smith. Crawling along the ocean floor at a rate of one meter per minute, it stops every few feet to collect information from the mud, including oxygen levels, how much marine snow - which is the food source for organisms at that depth - has fallen and other information.
The immediate use for the data is to understand how life can survive at that depth with such little oxygen and food supply making it to the bottom. However, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, over time the information will be increasingly useful to understand how climate change is impacting marine life.
This may be especially appealing to researchers looking in to ocean geo-engineering; these researchers are studying, in part, how ocean acidification can be leveled off through new circulation techniques, or dumping iron or limestone into the sea, and the impact of what does and doesn't reach the ocean floors is a big part of understanding how ocean acidification would be impacted.
But for now, the Benthic Rover has plans to study up. Later this fall, it will be on a two-month cruise near the undersea observatory at Monterey Bay. Next year it will be off shore in Central California, and the team hopes eventually in the waters off Antarctica.
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