Explore unknown worlds and life forms with autonomous robots

One world in the world – microbes in the ocean

They are almost everywhere and yet almost invisible. Microbes in the ocean probably spread and produce half of the oxygen in our atmosphere. It is suspected that they even influence major events such as climate change.

However, little is known about these ocean dwellers. A research team from the University of Hawaii Mānoa and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) now wants to change this with the help of three autonomous underwater vehicles (LRAUVs).

With a fleet of autonomous vehicles, the researchers want to collect data on the microbes that move through the ocean.

In March of this year, a test run started before Hawaii

The aim of the test run is to send the autonomous underwater vehicles or underwater robots through the ocean and collect and evaluate data on the microbes over a distance of more than 966 km.

Each of the autonomous robots (LRAUV) is equipped with sensors that collect data such as water temperature, chemistry and chlorophyll content. The researchers are particularly interested in oceanographic features such as (water) vortices and phytoplankton blooms, also known as algal blooms.

The robots also collect seawater samples in an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) during the journey and archive them. From the organisms collected in these samples, the researchers hope to gain insights into the types of microbes that exist in the different parts of the ocean. In addition, the samples will show what the structure of ocean eddies looks like and which types of microbes feed on algal blooms.

Jim Birch, MBARI’s chief engineer for the ESP project, says that this project will change oceanography forever, because unlike human-powered boats, the autonomous vehicles will function in all weathers.

It remains exciting what we will learn from the oceans, the last almost unknown places on earth and their inhabitants.


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