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New robot travels across the seafloor to monitor the impact of climate change on deep-sea ecosystems
Date:9/9/2009

In its basic configuration, the Benthic Rover is designed to operate on batteries, without any human input. However, during its month-long journey this summer, the Rover was connected by a long extension cord to a newly-completed underwater observatory. This observatory, known as the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS), provided power for the robot, as well as a high-speed data link back to shore.

According to Sherman, "Hooking up the Rover to the observatory opened up a whole new world of interactivity. Usually when we deploy the Rover, we have little or no communication with the vehicle. We drop it overboard, cross our fingers, and hope that it works." In this case, however, the observatory connection allowed MBARI researchers to fine tune the Rover's performance and view its data, videos, and still images in real time. Sherman recalls, "One weekend I was at home, with my laptop on the kitchen table, controlling the vehicle and watching the live video from 900 meters below the surface of Monterey Bay. It was amazing!"

Later this fall, the Rover will be sent back down to the undersea observatory site in Monterey Bay for a two-month deployment. Next year the team hopes to take the Rover out to a site about 220 km (140 miles) offshore of Central California. They will let the Rover sink 4,000 meters down to the seafloor, where it will make measurements on its own for six months. The team would also like to take the Rover to Antarctica, to study the unique seafloor ecosystems there. The Rover may also be hooked up to a proposed deep-water observatory several hundred miles off the coast of Washington state.

In addition to answering some key questions of oceanography, the Benthic Rover will help researchers study the effects of climate change in the ocean. As the Earth's atmosphere and oceans become warmer, even life in the deep sea will be affected. The Benthic Rover, and its possible successors, will help researchers understand h
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Contact: Kim Fulton-Bennett
kfb@mbari.org
831-775-1835
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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