Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Celebrating our 20th Anniversary

Ventana, the most successful scientific ROV

Celebrating 20 years

Remotely operated vehicle Ventana is launched from the deck of the R/V Point Lobos.
One of the first major tasks facing MBARI 20 years ago was the acquisition of basic equipment for deep-sea exploration, including a submersible. David Packard had already determined that a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) —rather than a human-occupied submersible with its inherent risk to human life—was the underwater workhorse of choice for the institute. A core group of scientists and engineers worked with Packard to develop the specifications for MBARI’s first remotely operated vehicle.

In 1987 International Submarine Engineering in British Columbia began construction of the ROV which was given the Spanish name for its destiny: “Ventana” or “window” into the ocean depths. After three months of construction and a month of sea trials, the core vehicle and tool-sled frame were shipped to Monterey. In short order, Ventana acquired its first customized instruments: a broadcast-quality video camera in a custom-built aluminum housing and a CTD unit for measuring conductivity (as a proxy for salinity), temperature, and depth. Six lights, about as bright as an automobile’s, were mounted on the vehicle, as well as a manipulator arm for grabbing samples. In August 1988, Ventana set out on its first dive on a shallow reef off Pacific Grove. The ROV collected its first sample that day, a rock that years later was identified as a carbonate fragment, probably from a cold seep.

The original Ventana is delivered to MBARI.
ROV Ventana is delivered to MBARI's offices, which were at that time in Pacific Grove, California.

Ventana’s capabilities have evolved over time, with the acquisition of high-intensity, lights, scanning sonar, flowmeters, oxygen sensors, a transmissometer, structured light system, a high-definition video camera, and assorted still and low-light cameras. A multi-beacon, ultra-short baseline system was added to relay the ROV’s position relative to the ship.

Equally important was development of research methods and collection techniques for ROV investigations that established the way MBARI and other institutions use ROVs. The key element in the development of our ROV methods for scientific work is that the scientist and pilot sit together in the control room on the ship and work interactively to conduct research. Typically, the scientist controls the main video camera and points out targets of interest to the pilot who maneuvers the ROV to keep the target in view.

Over the years, Ventana has explored the ocean to depths of 1,700 meters and has logged more underwater dive time than any other research ROV in the world, having performed more than 3,000 dives.  With its support ship, the R/V Point Lobos, the vehicle has contributed to extended research expeditions as far south as the Santa Barbara Basin and as far north as Oregon. Day after day, scientific investigators and ROV operators have sat side-by-side in the R/V Point Lobos control room, manipulating cameras and instruments to plumb the deep, collect specimens, and record thousands of hours of video images.

ROV Ventana is launched from the deck of the R/V Point Lobos.
ROV Ventana completed its 3,000th dive in May 2007.

Ventana has proven itself to be the workaholic of remotely operated vehicles," said MBARI President and CEO Marcia McNutt upon the occasion of Ventana’s 2000th dive. "However, its success is even better measured in the vast wealth of information about the deep sea and the life it contains, recorded during its years of exploration and experimentation in Monterey Bay. This milestone is a tribute to the fine engineers and marine operations staff at MBARI who have kept this vehicle in the water nearly 200 days each year while still keeping its tools and systems at the state of the art."

MBARI participants: Derek Bayliss, Gary Burkhart, Mike Burczynski, Knute Brekke, Mike Conway, Craig Dawe, Steve Etchemendy, Dale Graves, Chris Grech, Jim McFarlane, Craig Okuda, D.J. Osborne, Randy Prickett, Bruce Robison, Stuart Stratton, Kevin Sullivan, Mark Talkovic, Paul Tucker.


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