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Robotic Submersible Vehicle to Explore the Ocean Floor

A group of scientists from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are planning to launch a research mission for two days from the Moss Landing harbor to the bottom of the sea.

They would use the Doc Ricketts, which is a robotic submersible vehicle with the dimensions of a small car for investigating a location, which is 4200 feet under the ocean surface. This is mainly to find evidence of ecological fallout that had come from a 40 foot shipping container, which contained steel belted tires. The tires had fallen from a ship caught in a storm in 2004.

Monterey Bay’s Research Coordinator, Andrew DeVogelaere has stated that a variety of fish and other organisms collect around oil rigs and other high relief structures. According to DeVogelaere, the shipping container was the main structure on the sea floor, which is otherwise flat and sandy and this could attract different types of marine life that may not have been present in the habitat. He further stated that this could disturb the ecological balance.

The researchers would use a double hull Western Flyer, a 117 foot rig and control the robot vehicle’s movements through a bundled cable that would connect the submersible to the ship, which is on the surface. DeVogelaere has mentioned that it was similar to the NASA control room. According to him, one pilot would control the movements of the submersible while the second pilot would insert his arm inside the metallic sleeve that would control remotely the Doc Ricketts’ huge robotic arm. The robotic arm could come out and pick up a rock and smash it or it could dexterously pick up a sea star.

The other researchers help out by tracking the Doc Ricketts’ progress and manage the cables, which link the two vessels or monitor the video. They also have a plan of collecting soil samples, high resolution still photographs of the region around the cargo container, and hours of video to evaluate and determine if the container’s presence has attracted any kind of invasive species.

According to DeVogelaere, over 10,000 containers are lost by ships every year and disintegration time period taken by these containers is very long. He further mentions that the refuse could collect along the ocean floor and spread from one port to another, radically altering the fragile ecological balance that has been maintained over the years. Another matter for worry is the material inside the containers. More than 10% of these containers would be carrying either industrial chemicals or household chemicals. Around the world at any point of time over 5 million to 6 million containers are being carried. This specific container had an inert cargo, but he states that this may not always be the case.

This specific container was located as it was in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which was always being monitored. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had fined the shipping company, which was responsible for the container for an amount of $3.25 million as the area is regulated. Some portion of this money has been used for funding the Don Ricketts’ voyage to the ocean bottom.



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