Plankton survey vehicles

Research on planktonic organisms is important because they are the link between greenhouse gases being absorbed by the ocean and the final burial of these gases as solid organic carbon in deep sea sediments. Planktonic organisms also occur at very high point biodiversities and insights into how so many species can co-exist in a seemingly homogeneous environment should help shed light on aspects of biodiversity that need to be grasped for protection of biodiversity hotspots and to understand evolution.

Several trials with ROVs and manned submersibles (Wiebe & Benfield, 2003) have been carried out to investigate the distributions of macro- and micro-plankton versus environmental parameters. In this way, one is only able to gain information of a point nature and it is not possible to determine large-scale distributional patterns with limited ship-time. Both winch-controlled towed systems (MOCNESS net, BIONESS net, BIOMAPER-II system) have been equipped with a combination of imaging, acoustic and environmental parameter sensors. However, the maximum operation depth for the BIOMAPER-II and SeaSoar were only 300 m and none of these systems had imaging systems of high enough resolution to identify and quantify plankton at the species level (Wiebe & Benfield, 2003).

Since 2005, JAMSTEC has been developing a multiple-platform autonomous survey system able to quantitatively characterize the midwater environment, including fragile components such as large particulates and gelatinous plankton. This system could be deployable from small to medium sized boats and ships.

Since 2006, we have developed the first small vehicle named PICASSO-1 Plankton Investigatory Collaborating Autonomous Survey System Operon-1. Fig. 14 shows a snap shot of PICASSO-1 during a sea trial. PICASSO-1 is small and light (2.4 m long, 200 kg in weight) and the color of the hull is mostly red because deep sea organisms cannot see light or reflections in the red spectrum as a rule. The vehicle system consists of an on-board topside module and a vehicle, and these are connected via a thin optical fiber cable. One remotely controls the vehicle from the topside module. PICASSO-1 is composed of the following major parts: an FRP fairing cover, a body frame, buoyancy materials, controllers, communication systems, three 100 W thrusters, one tilt actuator, lights, devices for navigation and observation, oil-filled lithium ion battery, and an optical fiber spooler. The vehicle has one vertical tail fin and two fins for stability. Table 6 shows the PICASSO-1 specifications.

Item

Specification

Remarks

Dimension

2.1 m x 0.8 m x 0.8 m

without VPR

Weight

200 kg

in air

Depth rating

1,000 m

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