Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)
A brief history of ESP development

First ESP deployment

The first-generation Environmental Sample Processor was deployed off the coast of Maine in 2001. MBARI engineer Gene Massion is shown in underwater operations.


Historical questions

  • What species are present?
  • How do they respond to alterations in the chemical and physical environment?
  • What role do they play in biogeochemical cycling, food webs, and maintenance of global climate?
  • Can we use specific organisms as indicators of environmental change?
  • Are harmful or toxic microorganisms present, and if so, which species and how many?

Historical sampling instruments

The idea of automatiing sample collection and speeding the process of species identification is not new.An early instrument, the continuous plankon recorder (CPR), was first deployed on the RRS Discovery in 1925-1927. In the CPR, phytoplankton, zooplankton. and larval fish were collected on gauze rolls, the "recording medium." Use of the CPR necessitated development of instrumentation and techniques for processing large numbers of samples.

  • A traversing microscope was designed for examining the gauze rolls.
  • Species identification was based on morphology.
  • Individual species could be recovered for further analysis.

The CPR was designed to document the patchiness of zooplankton. It underwent many modifications over time and actually took 10 years to become operational. (A.C. Hardyl 1936, Discovery Reports Vol. XI, pp. 457-510.) The CPR has been in use for over 50 years and continues to be used in various updated forms.

MBARI and the ESP

Techniques developed in the MBARI DNA Probe project led to the definition of functional requirements for the first environmental sample processor. Development of the first generation (1G) prototype was initiated by MBARI in 1999. The first hardware (1G ESP) was successfully deployed in 2001 in the Gulf of Maine and in 2002 in Monterey Bay, CA. The first generation ESP was retired in 2006.

Details on the 1G ESP and deployment results

A grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), awarded in 2003, drove development of the second generation instrument (2G core). The 2G ESP was first deployed in Monterey Bay, CA, in Spring 2006 and continues to be refined and tested.

Details on the 2G ESP and deployment results

Last updated: Feb. 04, 2009