New Underwater Vehicles to Study Ocean's Smallest Organisms

Mar 9, 2018

New LRAUV underwater during pre-cruise testing.
Credit Elisha Wood-Charlson / UHM/ SOEST

A small fleet of state-of-the-art research submersibles are scheduled to launch from Oʻahu tomorrow.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute will be using the underwater vehicles to track, study, and collect ocean microbes. 

Microbes are small organisms that are not visible to the naked eye, and are vital to the marine ecosystem because they are the base of the food chain. They are also capable of producing and consuming greenhouse gases – and are responsible for regulating how the ocean functions.

Ed DeLong is a Marine Micro-biologist and Professor at UH Mānoa.

He says the new vehicle's predecessor looked like a 55 gallon drum, that would float on the surface and collect samples. But the new vehicles, called long-range autonomous underwater vehicle (LRAUV), have a range of a thousand kilometers, can dive to 300 meters and can map its surrounding environment.

Brett Hobson from MBARI and Gabe Foreman from the University of Hawaii prepare a long-range AUV for field trials.
Credit Chris Preston / Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

DeLong says the study will not only lead to a better understanding of how the marine environment works and how it is changing – but will also test out the new underwater vehicles.

An expeditionary cruise aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute's research vessel Falkor leaves tomorrow for open-ocean sea trials for the new LRAUVs. During the cruise, researchers will locate an eddy using satellite data and then deploy the vehicles to survey the feature and collect water samples.

When the robots return to the surface and are recovered, UH Mānoa researchers will extract DNA from the filters. This information will provide insight into the eddy's duration, stability and influence on the ocean systems; and will improve current ocean models, which are critical for developing expectations on the health of future oceans.