MBARI Open House Draws Visitors From Around the Central Coast
July 23, 2012
Ocean lovers of all ages flocked to Moss Landing on Saturday to check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s open house in celebration of their 25th anniversary.
The estimated 3,000 visitors, according to the PR representative Kim Fulton-Bennett, had the opportunity to learn about the most recent discoveries and operations of MBARI through science exhibits, research presentations, and deep-sea videos. The highlights of the event included; the christening of the MBARI’s newest research vessel by Julie Packard, Executive Director of Monterey Bay Aquarium, and demonstrations of the institute’s most up to date robot exploration technology.
The 135 foot steel research vessel, Rachel Carson, has been a much anticipated addition to MBARI’s fleet, says Steve Etchemendy the Director or Marine Operations. The vessel’s 35 gallon fuel tank allows for greater distance missions, says Etchemendy. A mission from Moss Landing to Hawaii and back would use a half of a tank of gas, he estimates. Formerly an oil field supply boat, the Rachel Carson is undergoing construction to accommodate all the latest exploration technology. The scientist’s labs on board the vessel are cube shaped modules and mobile, says Etchemendy. A crane, built into the Rachel Carson, can swap out the modules depending on the nature of the research mission.
On a dock in front of the MBARI facility, researchers and engineers held demonstrations of the robot technology utilized in their research. There were six different types of robots; classified as either autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) or remotely operated vehicles (ROV).
Jim Bellingham, Chief Technologist for MBARI says “Robot technology is making our presence in the ocean more permanent. Rather than occasional visit, we are really moving into the neighborhood.”
For the first time scientists are able to watch how organisms evolve in the marine environment, he says, "That is leading to all kinds of insights as to how genes are regulated.”
The Dorado is a missile shaped AUV robot that can essentially gathers data with minimal human contact, says Bellingham. “I can watch deep sea videos while I’m drinking my cappuccino in my house,” he says. After these AUV robots are programmed, they are launched down boat ramps or off small boats, he says. The robot's abilities’ include: collecting water samples, shooting videos, measuring temperatures, oxygen content, and chlorophyll, says Bellingham.
Ventana, a ROV robot, has a remote arm to collect large samples such as; jellies, squids, mud and rocks, says Mike Burczynski, Ventana's pilot. The Ventana is the size of a larger SUV and requires two pilots to operate it via a control room on board one of the large research vessels, he says.
“The ocean is incredibly important for our future,” says Bellingham, “but it is the least observed part of our planet.” Technology is allowing us to understand the dynamics of the ocean that previously have been misunderstood, says Bellingham.