To meet the challenge of working underwater to discover and understand the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes requires a suite of advanced technologies. Underwater vehicles unlock the mysteries of the deep through ocean exploration that provides first-order observations of the patterns of seafloor geologic features and the biological diversity they support. Similarly, technologies are needed to make repeated observations, quantitative measurements and conduct experiments to understand the complex abiotic and biotic interactions that occur in the four-dimensional ocean realm that create and sustain these patterns in nature.
Advanced underwater diving systems are a critical complement to other approaches such as the acoustic seafloor mapping technologies that, in combination, allow the study of specific places and ecosystems throughout a range of spatial scales. Underwater vehicles provide in situ observations and measurements of the ecosystem processes and interactions at work in the oceans such as competition, predation or disturbance. Understanding these ecological processes within a specific well-mapped place in the oceans are the building blocks required for ecosystem based management.
Evolution of Center Vehicles
NURTEC acquired its first low-cost remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in 1987, a Benthos MiniRover MkII, and began to develop new tools and methodologies to utilize these portable systems as effective research and education tools. The Center acquired additional, more capable ROVs in the 1990’s (e.g. Deep Ocean Engineering Phantom S2 and a Deep Sea Systems International MaxROV) to meet the evolving needs of the research community, which resulted in the development of an operational excellence with these undersea technologies. Technology development continued to focus on tools to add to the off the shelf ROVs to support coastal ecosystem research.
In 2007 NURTEC made the decision to overhaul its 1000 meter Kraken ROV and developed a custom power, control and telemetry system to provide more robust integration and control of a number of sampling tools. This effort produced the Kraken2 (pictured top right), a “science” class ROV designed to provide robust sampling, sensing and imaging capabilities to meet a broad range of research tasks. The evolution of science class ROVs continues with the rebuild of the Center’s 330 meter Hela ROV that is built upon a highly modified Deep Ocean Engineering system.
The sampling and imaging capacities of these systems are well suited to provide data to address both ecosystem approaches to management and provide seafloor habitat data for marine spatial planning. NURTEC has and will continue to work with partners to acquire and operate Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (AUVs) to address broader scale sampling requirements.