Had a delivery down in Moss Landing a couple of days ago and was given a great tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (Thanks Melinda!). MBARI is doing amazing work studying the mid-ocean regions of the sea using submersibles – both ROVs (remote operated vehicles) and AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), different research vessels, and an amazing multidisciplinary lab where biology, chemistry, physics are alchemized into SCIENCE.
As I learned from Melinda, MBARI was funded by the Packard Foundation and built on the site of an old whaling station. It has these amazing conference rooms and an auditorium with the waves crashing on the beach behind it. There’s also a test tank that must be 50 meters deep where they test submersibles. At the base of the tank there is another conference room with windows facing into tanks. Ahhh…so many opportunities to stare into the distance and not pay attention to what people are lecturing on.
But then what everyone is studying is just so cool! Mapping the ocean floor using missile shaped AUVs that perform transects and map at super high resolutions. I’ve always been fascinated by how position is determined once one leaves the surface of the ocean. Without access to satellites, one is fully reliant on dead reckoning for position – or calculating for current, speed of travel and direction. This is why treasure hunting has been incredibly difficult. Even if you discover treasure underwater, it is with some great effort to get back to the exact site below the surface. There’s a great book about this called Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea.
While at MBARI, I got a very spirited talk outside of Jenny Paduan’s poster on mapping a freshly erupted underwater volcano outside the Strait of Juan de Fuca using ROVs and AUVs. Really fascinating stuff. For someone who spent his childhood playing with Legos Space and part of his career working on research vessels this was like stepping into a super high tech childhood fantasy come to life. So often we look to outer space in search of the undiscovered when, in reality, undiscovered life exists in myriads of forms all around us and we shouldn’t be looking up but down beneath the ocean’s surface.
Here’s some video of cool stuff from MBARI.