Our Eyes Under the Sea

NOAA ROV Deep Discoverer (Picture courtesy of Ocean Explorer)

ROV is an acronym for remotely operated vehicle. These vehicles are explicitly underwater vehicles and not to be confused with remote control vehicles used on land or in the air. ROV's are incredible innovations allowing explorers the ability to actually see areas of the ocean that have previously been unknown to them. And not only see but take select samples and store them for later analysis.

The Okeanos' latest ROV, Deep Discoverer (D2), is pretty new to the water. Dave Lovalvo, project manager for NOAA OER’s Deep Submergence Group, and his team have recently built the new ROV to replace the smaller and lesser qualified Little Hercules used before. The 2013 season has seen the D2 on a shakedown mission where the team took it out for the first time and made some final tests. Now it is being employed on its current mission exploring the Northeastern U.S. Canyons.

Deep Discoverer is a high quality machine with a vast array of abilities. The 9,200 pound ROV is equipped with six cameras, two of which are high-definition, the latest in LED lighting technology, as well as 2 seven-functioning hydraulic manipulators. It also has a hydraulically actuated sensor platform, full color sector scan sonar, and a fully integrated inertial navigation system. A most convenient capability, one that most ROV's have these days, are its hydraulic thrusters that enable it to move any which way in the water. With a depth rating of 6,000 meters, the D2 may not be the deepest diving underwater vehicle but with the average depth of the ocean measuring around 4,000 meters there are fewer areas inaccessible.

The weight of the vehicle has been carefully measured and compensated for by the 'foam' on top so that it remains neutrally buoyant at its greatest depth. For more information on this see Ocean Explorers article on the ROV Hercules.

Launching NOAA ROV Seirios (Picture courtesy of Ocean Explorer)

As part of the 'buddy system', D2 is connected to the smaller ROV Seirios which has lighting and cameras of its own to assist D2 as well as keep a closer eye on it. Seirios is practically a metal frame towed up and down by the cable connecting it to the boat above but it is equipped with thrusters that enable it to move forward and backward with the ROV.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Okeanos was refitted to house the ROV's permanently, whereas the initial method was to make everything, the control room and equipment, transportable from vessel to vessel. Having the D2 and Seirios stationed on the Okeanos allows for less blips and glitches in the controlling.

I first became fascinated by submersible technology when I found an article in an old Popular Mechanics magazine. Already having a fascination with shipwrecks and shipwreck recovery, I read how they used the ROV Super Achilles to search for the HMS Sussex and this piqued my interest. I eventually collected another article on ROV's from Popular Science on the many types of underwater vehicles where I learned about the Japanese probe, Kaiko, and its expedition to the oceans deepest point, Challenger Deep. I realized then that there really was more to the world than what was already discovered. My conclusion, ROV's are the way of the future. Every single expedition presents scientists with more information and often times, more questions. And in my opinion, the day we stop asking questions is the day we die.

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