During a dive on sonar anomalies suspected to be a shipwreck, the Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle instead discovered the remnants of asphalt volcanoes, or “tar lilies.” Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition. Download high-resolution version (1.4 Mb).
Nine-thousand pounds of equipment. Over 3,000 feet of electrical wiring. Twenty LED lights. Nine video cameras. Depths of nearly four miles and pressures almost 600 times that at sea level. Impressively large numbers that describe just a few features of the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer, also known simply as “D2.”
Given all of the ROV's high-tech bells and whistles, it takes a highly skilled team to keep D2 operating smoothly. Click image for credit and larger view.
Deep Discoverer is owned and operated by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER). The office’s Deep Submergence Group designed and built D2 and continues to be responsible for the operation and management of the ROV. With diverse skills in mechanical, electrical, software, and video engineering, this group is well equipped to tackle the difficulties of exploring the normally inaccessible depths of the ocean.
Referred to in the industry as a ‘camera sled’, Seirios is directly tethered to the Okeanos and serves to illuminate D2 from above while providing pilots with a wide-angle view as they traverse the ocean floor and enhancing visibility in surrounding areas.
The high-definition cameras installed on Deep Discoverer are certainly one of its defining features. With a primary camera capable of zooming in on a three-inch long organism from 10 feet away, D2 brings us closer than ever to the seemingly alien biology and geology of the deep sea.
D2's high-definition cameras are providing scientists and public audiences around the world with close-up glimpses of things we might otherwise never see. Here, D2 captures an image of tiny bobtail squid eggs, getting so close that you can actually see the eyes of the squid. Click image for credit and larger view.
Modern communication technology connects the Okeanos, D2, and Seirios to the rest of the world via satellite by transmitting video from the ROVs on the bottom of the ocean to Internet browsers. This telepresence technology allows onboard scientists to connect with dozens of others worldwide who provide scientific context to the on-ship team of explorers in real time. This technology also means that anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection can follow the excitement of discovery with scientists, watching it unfold as it happens.
D2 is already providing scientists with high-quality imagery and seawater data that give valuable insights into complex ecosystems. Since the vehicle’s launch in 2013, the OER engineering team installed a specialized robotic arm to provide an unprecedented level of control when collecting deep-sea samples. Debuting in 2015, limited sample collection can provide scientists with an even better look at deep-ocean environments when the samples are brought to the surface.
Broadcasting high-quality content from the bottom of the ocean requires an expertly choreographed production of ROV engineers, NOAA ship crew, and passionate scientists and partners both onboard and onshore. To see the results of these impressive feats of engineering and cooperation yourself, be sure to tune in to the live feed during Okeanos expeditions.
D2 on the deck of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.