Ecogenomic Sensing

Sensors: Underwater Research of the Future (SURF Center)

MBARI President/CEO Chris Scholin, the science lead behind the development of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), heads out to sea for the launch of a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle carrying the latest version of the instrument. Photo: Todd Walsh © MBARI 2017

The development of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) is one of MBARI’s longest running projects and was born out of the desire to perform laboratory microbiology in situ, or in the environment of interest. The ESP is a robotic “laboratory-in-a-can” that can be deployed at sea, take samples autonomously, run biochemical tests, and detect the presence or absence of target organisms and/or the substances they produce. Instruments that are able to perform these tests within the environment represent a new class of devices known as “ecogenomic sensors”.

Having a robot perform tests in situ provides significant advantages. In the past, getting on-site to collect and process samples on a regular basis required significant personnel, equipment, and a ship. Conversely, placing a robot on-site that can collect and process samples autonomously removes the need for ships to visit the site each time a sample is needed. And underwater robots are oblivious to bad weather or sea state. These advantages can allow researchers to have a presence in more places at once and for longer periods of time.

At MBARI, we created the SURF Center (Sensors: Underwater Research of the Future) to better leverage the multiple projects related to ESP development and usage. Our goal is to continue improving reliability and capability, collecting data to understand microbial processes in the ocean, and training others to use this technology for the benefit of society.

Genomic sensors

By utilizing cellular-level molecular biology, the ESP can assist multiple areas of oceanographic research and resource management.


Kevin Gomes

Information Engineering Group Lead

John Ryan

Senior Research Specialist


Upper-ocean systems
Acoustical ocean ecology
Acoustic instruments
Acoustic fingerprinting
Acoustic community ecology
Acoustics in the news
Biological oceanography
Global modes of sea surface temperature
Krill hotspots in the California Current
Nitrate supply estimates in upwelling systems
Chemical sensors
Chemical data
Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory in Elkhorn Slough
Listing of floats
SOCCOM float visualization
Periodic table of elements in the ocean
Biogeochemical-Argo Report
Profiling float
Interdisciplinary field experiments
Ecogenomic Sensing
Genomic sensors
Field experiments
Harmful algal blooms (HABs)
Water quality
Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)
ESP Web Portal
In the news
Ocean observing system
Midwater research
Midwater ecology
Deep-sea squids and octopuses
Food web dynamics
Midwater time series
Respiration studies
Zooplankton biodiversity
Seafloor processes
Revealing the secrets of Sur Ridge
Exploring Sur Ridge’s coral gardens
Life at Sur Ridge
Mapping Sur Ridge
Biology and ecology
Effects of humans
Ocean acidification, warming, deoxygenation
Lost shipping container study
Effects of upwelling
Faunal patterns
Previous research
Technology development
High-CO2 / low-pH ocean
Benthic respirometer system
Climate change in extreme environments
Station M: A long-term observatory on the abyssal seafloor
Station M long-term time series
Monitoring instrumentation suite
Sargasso Sea research
Antarctic research
Geological changes
Arctic Shelf Edge
Continental Margins and Canyon Dynamics
Coordinated Canyon Experiment
CCE instruments
CCE repeat mapping data
Monterey Canyon: A Grand Canyon beneath the waves
Submarine volcanoes
Mid-ocean ridges
Magmatic processes
Volcanic processes
Explosive eruptions
Hydrothermal systems
Back arc spreading ridges
Near-ridge seamounts
Continental margin seamounts
Non-hot-spot linear chains
Eclectic seamounts topics
Margin processes
Hydrates and seeps
California borderland
Hot spot research
Hot-spot plumes
Magmatic processes
Volcanic processes
Explosive eruptions
Volcanic hazards
Hydrothermal systems
Flexural arch
Coral reefs
ReefGrow software
Eclectic topics
Submarine volcanism cruises
Volcanoes resources
Areas of study
Bioluminescence: Living light in the deep sea
Microscopic biology research
Open ocean biology research
Seafloor biology research
Automated chemical sensors
Methane in the seafloor
Volcanoes and seamounts
Hydrothermal vents
Methane in the seafloor
Submarine canyons
Earthquakes and landslides
Ocean acidification
Physical oceanography and climate change
Ocean circulation and algal blooms
Ocean cycles and climate change
Past research
Molecular ecology
Molecular systematics
SIMZ Project
Bone-eating worms
Gene flow and dispersal
Molecular-ecology expeditions
Ocean chemistry of greenhouse gases
Emerging science of a high CO2/low pH ocean