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Robot vehicle surveys deep sea off Pacific Northwest

The first scientific mission with Sentry, a newly developed robot capable of diving as deep as 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) into the ocean, has been successfully completed by scientists and engineers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the University of Washington (UW).

The vehicle surveyed and helped pinpoint several proposed deep-water sites for seafloor instruments that will be deployed in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s planned Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).

Sentry is a state-of-the-art, free-swimming underwater robot that can operate independently, without tethers or other connections to a research ship.

The autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, is pre-programmed with guidance for deep-water surveying, but it can also make its own decisions about navigation on the terrain of the seafloor.

"This investment into emerging technologies is paying off in delivering state-of-the-art science support," said Julie Morris, director of NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences. "In the near future, Sentry will conduct high-resolution oceanographic surveys that would be otherwise impossible."

Working in tandem with sonar instruments on the UW-operated research vessel Thomas G. Thompson and with photo-mapping by WHOI's TowCam seafloor imaging system, Sentry gathered the most precise maps to date of seafloor features known as Hydrate Ridge and Axial Volcano off the coast of Oregon and Washington.

"We are changing the way ocean science is done, launching a new era in which an ensemble of technologies will provide us with an increasing capacity for exploring and interacting with the global oceans," said John Delaney, chief scientist of the expedition and principal investigator for the UW-led regional observatory in the planned OOI.

The one-of-a-kind, WHOI-built AUV--which was largely funded by NSF--made six dives during the July 22 to August 5 expedition.

Sentry surveyed

Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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