Seafloor Mapping Lab

Visualizing the seafloor like never before

Dave Caress, Principal Engineer

Map of mid-ocean ridge

One-meter (3.3-feet) resolution map of the axial valley wall of the Gorda Ridge, a mid-ocean spreading center. Blue is deep, orange is shallow.

Technology development

Mapping the seafloor to image its structure and character is a fundamental type of observation used in oceanographic research. The MBARI Seafloor Mapping team seeks to achieve efficient surveys that are spatially accurate and repeatable, in complex terrain, and in the deep ocean. This work has been an important part of MBARI development and research for over two decades. Since 2004 we have used Dorado AUVs optimized for mapping to collect 1-meter (3.3 feet) scale topography, backscatter, and subbottom profiler data. Starting in 2011 we have used MBARI’s ROVs as platforms for low altitude surveys that yield 1-centimeter (0.4 inch) resolution topography combined with 2-millimeter (0.08 inch) scale color photography. Whether at 1-meter scale or 1-centimeter scale, with repeated surveys our mapping tools have the capability to quantitatively measure change on the seafloor. Our AUV mapping data are being archived at the Marine Geoscience Data System (MGDS).

Ocean Imaging Project

The Ocean Imaging Project is developing a system for mapping the seafloor and steep walls at cm-scale and higher resolution with lasers, cameras, and sonar.

MB-System seafloor mapping software

MB-System is an open source software package for the processing and display of bathymetry and backscatter imagery data derived from multibeam, interferometry, and sidescan sonars. The source code for MB-System is freely available.

Seafloor mapping AUV

The MBARI mapping AUV is a torpedo-shaped vehicle equipped with four sonars that operate simultaneously during a mission to map the seafloor autonomously. The sonars are a swath multibeam sonar, two sidescan sonars, and a sub-bottom profiler.

Research collaborations

The mapping vehicle and software development work is enabling innovative science through collaboration with research groups inside and outside the institute and enabling socially relevant observations. Research projects include sediment transport through through submarine canyons, volcanic and hydrothermal processes on active spreading centers, gas seeps and mud volcanoes, assessing seismic hazards, habitat mapping, iceberg mapping, and renewable energy site surveys.

Submarine volcanoes

Volcanic events and deposits in the ocean are largely concealed from view and more difficult to sample than volcanoes on land. The submarine volcanism group studies processes that form and modify volcanoes in the sea.

Geological Changes Group

Submarine canyons are considered to be a major conduit for sediment transport from the continent into the deep sea. Under the direction of Charlie Paull we have begun to study the canyon using multiple techniques used to understand these dynamic processes.

Biology and ecology

The Benthic Biology Lab looks at the habitats and lives of deep-sea organisms. The cold, dark, deep sea is relatively unexplored, so much of our research aims to discover what is there and how it lives.

Bioinspiration Lab

Developing technologies and techniques to explore mysteries of the deep sea for bio-inspired design.


Seafloor Mapping Group

Mapping AUV Operations

Ocean Imaging project

The project team is much larger.  See all who are involved.

MB-System development

The MB-System team is larger. See all who are involved.


Solving challenges
Taking the laboratory into the ocean
In Situ Ultraviolet Spectrophotometer
Midwater Respirometer System
Mobile flow cytometer
Enabling targeted sampling
Automated Video Event Detection
Gulper autonomous underwater vehicle
Advancing a persistent presence
Aerostat hotspot
Benthic Event Detectors
Benthic rover
Long-range autonomous underwater vehicle Tethys
Marine “soundscape” for passive acoustic monitoring
Monterey Ocean-Bottom Broadband Seismometer
Shark Café camera
Wave Glider-based communications hotspot
Emerging and current tools
Aerostat hotspot
Wave Glider-based communications hotspot
Wet WiFi
Data management
Oceanographic Decision Support System
Spatial Temporal Oceanographic Query System (STOQS) Data
Video Annotation and Reference System
Apex profiling floats
Benthic Event Detectors
Deep particle image velocimetry
Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)
How the ESP Works
Genomic sensors
ESP Web Portal
The ESP in the news
Investigations of imaging for midwater autonomous platforms
Lagrangian sediment traps
Laser Raman Spectroscopy
Midwater Respirometer System
Mobile flow cytometer
Smart underwater connector
OGC PUCK Reference Design Kit
Promoters and manufacturers
Manufacturer ID
Wave-Power Buoy
Vehicle technology
Benthic Rover
Gulper autonomous underwater vehicle
Imaging autonomous underwater vehicle
In Situ Ultraviolet Spectrophotometer
Seafloor mapping AUV
Long-range autonomous underwater vehicle Tethys
Mini remotely operated vehicle
ROV Doc Ricketts
ROV Ventana
Automated Video Event Detection
Machine learning
SeeStar Imaging System
Shark Café camera
Video Annotation and Reference System
Engineering Research
Bioinspiration Lab
Bringing the laboratory to the ocean
Bringing the ocean to the laboratory
Bio-inspired ocean exploration technologies
Seafloor mapping
Ocean imaging
MB-System seafloor mapping software
Seafloor mapping AUV
Technology transfer
Recent Publications
Clague, D.A., Martin, J.F., Paduan, J.B., Butterfield, D.A., Jamieson, J.W., Le Saout, M., Caress, D.W., Thomas, H., Holden, J.F., Kelley, D.S., (2020). Hydrothermal chimney distribution on the Endeavour Segment, Juan de Fuca Ridge. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, 21: 1-12.
Clague, D.A., Paduan, J.B., Caress, D.W., McClain, J., Zierenberg, R.A., (2020). Lava flows erupted in 1996 on North Gorda Ridge Segment and the geology of the nearby Sea Cliff Hydrothermal Vent Field From 1-M resolution AUV mapping. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7: 1-25.
Maier, K. L., Paull, C, K., Caress, D.W., Anderson, K., Nieminski, N.M., Lundsten, E., Erwin, B.E., Gwiazda, R., Fildani, A., (2020). Submarine fan development revealed by integrated high-resolution datasets from La Jolla fan, offshore California, USA. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 90: 468-479.

Full publications list