Environmental Sample Processor
Bringing the laboratory to the ocean
What is the Environmental Sample Processor?
The MBARI Environmental Sample Processor—the ESP—provides on-site (in situ) collection and analysis of water samples from the subsurface ocean.
The instrument is an electromechanical/fluidic system designed to collect water samples and automatically apply molecular detection technology that can identify microorganisms in the water and their gene products. The ESP can also store and preserve samples for analysis after the instrument is recovered. This movie, produced with support from NASA, provides an overview of the ESP and how it might be used in the world’s oceans and beyond.
Why build an ESP?
Whether trying to identify microorganisms or understand why certain algae produce toxins, analysis typically requires collecting water samples at sea and returning them to a fully equipped laboratory. This can introduce a significant time-lag between sample collection and informative results. Additionally, water collection can become very expensive if boats or ships are needed on a regular basis.
Thus in the early 2000s, MBARI initiated the development of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) and new techniques to allow the remote application of molecular probe technology. The hope was to provide a “persistent presence” in the ocean, bringing the laboratory to the sea, and thus reaping cost savings in the most expensive part of microbial oceanography—sample collection.