There are a lot of images that come to mind when we think of Yellowstone. Dramatic geological features and the amazing wildlife that call the park home top the list, but there is a part of Yellowstone that researchers believe is just as spectacular, it just hasn't been explored yet.
Engineers at the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, a group that designs and operates underwater vehicles to study the world's oceans and large lakes, want to uncover the mysteries in the depths of Yellowstone Lake. They plan to build a special robot that will explore the lake using high definition video and sensors to gather data about the ecosystem that lies below the surface.
The geothermal activity of Yellowstone creates an ecosystem that consists of a variety of organisms that may exist nowhere else on Earth. Researchers already know that the bottom of the lake is home to heat-loving species of crustaceans, sponges and even creatures that feed off the heat and chemistry of the environment rather than the Sun. The most promising discoveries could be the microbial life that exists in the lake.
In the 1970's, a microbial species found in the park ended up leading to the development of a breakthrough method for decoding DNA. Less than 1 percent of the park's microbes have been identified, but scientists believe they may hold the key to everything from coming up with better cancer treatments to understanding the origins of life on this planet and beyond.
The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration has started a Kickstarter campaign to help them build the sophisticated robot that will gather data on the lake's unique ecosystem. The president of the foundation was actually the first to build and operate a robot in the lake back in 1985, but now the team has grown to include several engineers and will also receive guidance from experts at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, University of Minnesota, and Montana State University. The research will be directed by Yellowstone National Park.
The foundation hopes to raise $100,000 through Kickstarter, but it has private donors that will match whatever they raise to double that to $200,000. The robot will be able to go to depths of almost 5,000 feet and will collect samples of sediments, water and biological material. Sensors will measure temperature and analyze chemicals while an HD camera will document the world below.
After exploring Yellowstone Lake, the robot will be used to gather data on other large lakes around the world.