Sensor-bots and the Sea


This is my first post from the Thompson, and my third day at sea. Although we have been in transit to Axial Volcano for the last two days, there has been no shortage of activities! The first day and night were pretty much a write-off thanks to seasickness! In fact, my strongest first impression aboard the Thompson came from the crew of this fine ship. They are some of the nicest people I have come across, and nursed me through my unpleasant evening. I would like to give a shout-out to Sarah in particular, who lent me her warm sweater and hand-crocheted hat – and then taught me how to crochet! Before the end of the cruise, I will have finished my own hat, and it will carry the memories of my first ever research cruise and the wonderful people I met aboard the ship.

Yesterday, I helped put together blue balls – sorry, I mean sensor-bots (patent pending?). Picture a clear sphere, the size of a fist, housing some electronics and batteries. On the surface of the sphere, 3 sensors for measuring pH, temperature or oxygen level report the environmental condition to the inner-electronics which convert the signal into basically a visual Morse code of flashing blue LED lights (hence blue balls). A high speed camera on the seafloor picks up the signal and stores it for later decoding on the ship. On this cruise, the plan is to position an array of these orbs near Axial Volcano so that pH, temperature and oxygen level can be monitored long-term in the vicinity of volcanic activity. No one has ever seen an underwater volcano erupt; yet there are hundreds of thousands of them surrounding the globe along the mid-ocean ridge! As the technology develops, these orbs may cover vast areas of the ocean and transmit data regularly to the OOI database. However, considering the depth of the volcanoes (usually >2000 m) and the extreme darkness of the deep sea, you can imagine what an engineering feat it is to produce independent sensors that can report back to the ship! Hopefully as the technology improves, we will be able to see the frequency of volcanic eruption and the chemical cycles it generates in both the deep-, mid- and shallow ocean.

That’s just one of the many projects I’ve taken part in so far… so there will be plenty more to come!