High-tech nose for marine research

New deep-sea robot improves seabed exploration

Autonomous diving robot of the French sea research center Ifremer. The new Kiel AUV could also look something like this. © IFM-GEOMAR
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The marine researchers of the Kiel Leibniz Institute for Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR), an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), will soon receive a valuable addition to the technical category. The new submersible robot can dive to the surface without cable connection to a depth of 4, 000 meters. It is financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The marine researchers can control the high-tech equipment from the ship and, with the help of various echosounders and sensors, both map the seabed and collect physical parameters from the water column. Thus, they gain exciting insights and tangible data from previously unknown worlds in the deep sea.

"With such a robot, we can study very interesting and little known areas of the seabed, for example underwater volcanoes, which are mostly located at a depth of 3, 000 to 4, 000 meters, " says a delighted Professor Colin Devey, marine geologist at IFM-GEOMAR. Together with his colleagues Klas Lackschewitz and Sven Petersen, Colin Devey has applied to the DFG for the autonomous underwater vehicle.

Great help with mapping

"Compared to other cable-guided deep-sea robots, the AUV can record relatively large areas on the seabed, because it can float up to ten meters above the seabed, " explains Klas Lackschewitz. This is of great help to marine researchers in probing entire areas of research that can be mapped and photographed with the robot in an automated process.

"Exploring the seabed from a research vessel is like trying to investigate the Alps from a hot-air balloon in the fog. Any reasonable person will want to leave the balloon in such a situation and get down to the ground, "Devey explains the potential of the new robot. display

Deep sea springs and underwater volcanoes

The new device will be designed specifically for the detection and mapping of hot deep-sea sources and underwater volcanoes. It will dive up to 4000m and use various echosounders and chemical sensors to examine both the seabed and the water column. The device is equipped with lithium batteries, with which it can dive and work over a day.

For the first time, the AUV is expected to be deployed on the mid-ocean ridge in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, a major study area of ​​the Priority Program. "We now know several hot springs in the area, and we want to explore why they are there and how they affect their environment, " Devey says. "Such a source emits more than 400 C of hot water in enormous quantities, " he continues. In their dark environment, which is very hostile to humans, many exotic animals settle in order to harness this heat energy. In addition, people may also benefit from the sources.

"Most of the world's ore deposits are due to the circulation of hot-water solutions through the seafloor crust, " says Lackschewitz, the future head of the AUV team. With the new device, we get an excellent tool to investigate the sources and their environment in a precise and environmentally friendly way ". It will take a few more months for the AUV to embark on a voyage into the depths of the deep sea, but they hope to take it aboard MS Merian on 20 November.

(Leibniz Institute for Marine Sciences, 02.05.2007 - NPO)