In addition to the research vessel Western Flyer, MBARI's R/V Zephyr—the primary support ship for MBARI's autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) program—will also be making the journey down the Pacific coast. Along the way, MBARI's AUV team will be deploying the mapping AUV, D. Allan B., in order to collect mapping data that will be used to direct the research teams' ROV diving and sampling programs. Detailed images from MBARI’s AUV high-resolution surveys help scientists understand seafloor vents, geologic evolution, and geochemical history of the dynamic seafloor structures.
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are robotic submarines that are programmed at the surface, then move through the water on their own, recording data, taking photographs, or collecting water samples as they go. MBARI began developing AUVs to reduce the cost and labor involved in monitoring the ocean. MBARI has three modular AUVs. One is used for water sampling and monitoring, a second is used for mapping the seafloor, and a third is used to take photographs of the ocean bottom. These vehicles range from about 10 to 15 feet long and weigh up to 1000 kilograms (one ton).
The MBARI Mapping AUV is a torpedo-shaped vehicle equipped with four mapping sonars that operate simultaneously during a mission. The multibeam sonar produces high-resolution bathymetry (analogous to topography on land), the sidescan sonars produce imagery based on the intensity of the sound energy's reflections, and the subbottom profiler penetrates sediments on the seafloor, allowing the detection of layers within the sediments, faults, and depth to the basement rock.