Principal Investigator: Ed Mellinger
Co-investigators: George Malby, Norman Maher, Dave Clague, Gerry Hatcher, Dave Wright
All MBARI research is dependent, to varying degrees, on leading-edge technology. A significant part of this technology is designed and created, or customized, by institute staff. This project encompasses development efforts and technology deployments that support a wide range of research activities at MBARI:
P11A Standardized instrumentationMBARI research depends on a range of instruments that can be deployed remotely (by ROV or AUV) or left unattended (at moorings or on the seafloor. In 1997 engineers evaluated the institute's needs with respect to instrument technology and reviewed hardware and software currently available to standardize development. During 1998 they will design common architectures for software programming tools and hardware components such as processors, power supplies, and mass storage devices. The goal is to produce "building blocks" that can be used in the fabrication of future oceanographic equipment. These interchangeable modules could be used to construct a range of underwater-deployable instruments that would be low in cost, have compact packaging, and perform with high reliability, unattended, for long periods of time. After engineers determine the standardized design, they will develop or purchase the necessary components to demonstrate the concepts on an instrument deployable on a mooring for use in Project 5: a "Genosensor" for autonomous, real-time detection of defined genetic sequences in plankton.
P11B Microwave communicationsThe microwave communications link system provides the means for relaying real-time video images of research in progress from MBARI's ROVs, via the research vessels, to the institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The link is two-way, so that images, command and control instructions, and data can be exchanged in both directions. While the system operates relatively reliably and has certain automatic mechanisms for regaining the signal when the link is interrupted, improvements could be made to increase the amount of time the link stays closed, that is, available for signal transmission. The minimum requirements for improved availability are new tracking antennas, with supporting pedestals, on each of the research vessels. In 1998 institute engineers will determine if upgrading the microwave system can be accomplished at reasonable cost.
P11C Regional data and mapping infrastructure The goal of this project is to support the mapping and surveying needs of all MBARI scientists. This includes analyzing previously collected seafloor data from potential sites of interest and collecting additional data as necessary. Areas projected for institute research have been assessed for the type, quantity, and quality of existing data coverage. In 1998 data for new regional base maps will be collected as required for anticipated future ROV studies. MBARI has contracted with a survey company for 61 days of ship time with a state-of-the-art swath-mapping system, the EM300. This hull-mounted device records bathymetry and reflectivity data that will be used to create base maps for ROV target identification and navigation. The system is optimized to operate in waters from 50 to 3,000 meters depth but will collect data up to 4,500 meters depending on bottom type. The areas to be surveyed include the Santa Barbara Basin (for research on hydrocarbon seeps, microbiology, and gas hydrates); Monterey Bay and parts of the continental margin; Southern Cascadia (for gas-hydrate studies); and, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, offshore waters of the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaii sites will include areas offshore of Maui, Niihau, Molokai, and Hawaii Island, and Loihi Seamount (for studies on hydrothermal venting and submarine eruptions).
P11D Marine GIS and Visualization (MARGIS) Geographic information systems (GIS) offer scientists a powerful format for consolidating many types of data. Users of such a system can manipulate and simultaneously visualize the combined, geographically referenced data layers as a "live" map. Software developers at MBARI began developing GIS capabilities in 1997 as a feasibility study. They have customized a commercial computer software program and incorporated into it many levels of spatially referenced information, such as satellite images and seafloor depth contours. They have also developed "tools" within the system that allow the user to plan ROV dives and surveys based on considerations of specific data accessed from the system. (These capacities have been used in planning ROV dives in locations such as Monterey Bay and the Marianas Trench and in calculating survey swaths for upcoming mapping cruises [project 11C].) The next step, being carried out in 1998, is to integrate easy-to-use GIS with navigation systems on the research ships. Linking the GIS and navigation systems will greatly increase the information available to scientists and operations staff, enhancing their ability for real-time, onsite analysis and optimizing the use of MBARI ship/ROV systems. GIS developers will continue to expand the institute's shore-side GIS infrastructure to improve dive planning, data management and display, and post-cruise analysis. They also will begin the task of integrating the Video Information Management System (VIMS) into MARGIS.
P11E Non-contact data transferCurrently MBARI operates many in-situ science instrument packages that acquire and store data on time scales ranging from weeks to years. These packages are deployed at sites of interest by an ROV and operate incommunicado for the duration of the experiment. Typically, once an instrument has left the deck of the deployment vessel it is not possible to determine if it is functioning correctly until it is recovered. More than a few scientists have waited a year for their data only to find that the batteries expired early or the instrument was not set up properly. In other cases, events of scientific significance have occurred well before the expected recovery time. Existing methods to overcome these data-access limitations rely on underwater electrical connectors which require the ROV to visit the instrument in question and "plug in" to it. This poses operational difficulties in ROV-piloting and physically disturbs the instrument platform. The connectors currently in use are expensive, mechanically complex, and, if damaged, are subject to seawater corrosion.
To address these issues and increase the utility of MBARIs ROVs and their real-time communications capabilities, engineers and technicians will investigate options for a low-cost, "non-contact" method of communicating with bottom-situated instruments which do not require directly linked, metallic connectors. Although such a system would still require periodic ROV visits, ideally it would avert the need for physical contact between the vehicle and the instruments. Efforts will focus on the creation of hardware compatible with existing instrument packages and those planned for the near future. Solutions employing optical, inductive, and/or acoustic technology will be explored. The expected results will make data available from MBARIs in-situ instruments on an as-needed basis.
Next: Video infrastructure
Last updated: 07 October 2004