Friday, March 09, 2007

DepthX Scours Ocean Floor

A completely untethered, autonomous deep-sea diving robot launches a mission this week to collect samples from a 400-foot-deep geothermal sinkhole in Mexico.

In a departure from other submersibles that manuever by commands received from the mother ship, this robot will be on its own from time it dives into the water until it returns to the surface. Using onboard mapping intelligence, the robot will navigate the La Pilita sinkhole, which leads to a network of flooded caves. Scientists behind the NASA-funded DepthX, (for Deep Phreatic Thermal eXplorer) hope the vehicle, which measures 8 feet in diameter and weighs 2,860 pounds, will collect samples of organisms that can survive the sinkhole's extreme environment.

DepthX will build on its existing maps of La Pilita to identify points of biological interest, collect samples and return them to a team of biologists at the surface. The area is particularly interesting to researchers who want to learn about organisms in extreme environments. The water is deep and warm -- averaging about 90 degrees Fahrenheit due to nearby hydrothermal sources heating the ground water -- and contains no oxygen.
I find this cool for 3 reasons:
1) I like the idea of automous robots going around and collecting data.
2) I love hydrothermal vents, and want to know more about the organisms that live there.
3) We know so little about the oceans, and this is a great way to find out more. As stated in the article:
"Two-thirds of our planet is ocean and yet we know very little about it," he said. "The most important discoveries over the next decade are going to be on our own planet and not on other planets."

via Wired

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