If you have access to a small, observation-class remotely operated vehicle to explore the ocean, where would you go? Would you use it to discover something new about marine ecosystems? Would you give students the opportunity to journey beneath the waves and learn about their local waterways? Would you hunt for lost lobster traps, track ocean plastic, deliver sensor payloads down into the mesophotic zone, or identify and protect critical spawning habitats?
Or would you undertake an expedition so novel that it has yet to be conceived?
Conservation X Labs in collaboration with Schmidt Marine Technologies and Sofar Ocean is delivering 20 Sofar Ocean Trident ROVs to researchers (both formal and informal), educators, citizen scientists, and ocean conservationist to help further projects to study, understand, or protect the marine environment, with a broad focus on marine conservation. Grant recipients will receive a Trident ROV with all the fixings!
Sofar Ocean Trident represents the next-generation of underwater drone. It is an out-of-the-box solution for ocean stakeholders that can perform many of the same functions of major research ROVs for a fraction of the cost and with no specialized training. Small enough to be stored in carry-on baggage, the ROV is extremely portable and has been deployed from vessels ranging in size from small kayaks to ocean-class research vessels to Polynesian voyaging canoes. Trident is fast, with simple controls. It is rated to 100m. The vehicle provides live video footage to the pilot through a kevlar-reinforced tether which can also serve as a recovery line. It has a series of ventral M3 mounting points that allow users to affix a variety of sensors, collectors, and payloads to expand its utility. It is one of the few consumer accessible vehicles capable of performing scientific research, documentary observation, conservation monitoring, and exploration from the surface of the ocean down into the mesophotic zone.
The application is simple and streamlined to get you out exploring the ocean.
In 2013, Kersey Sturdivant and I embarked upon a quixotic quest to create an open-source CTD — the core tool of all oceanographic research that measures the baseline parameters of salinity, temperature, and depth. We weren’t engineers; neither of us had any formal training in electronics or sensing. And, full confession, we weren’t (and still aren’t) even oceanographers! What we were were post-doc marine ecologists working with tight budgets who saw a desperate need among our peers and colleagues for low-cost alternatives to insurmountably expensive equipment. And we had ties to the growing Maker and DIY electronics movements: Kersey through his work developing Wormcam and me through my involvement with OpenROV.
We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Seven years and five iterations later, we are releasing the long anticipated OpenCTD rev 2 as well as the comprehensive Construction and Operation Manual! OpenCTD rev 2 builds on over half a decade of iteration and testing, consultation with oceanographers, engineers, developers, and makers around the world, extensive coastal and sea trials, and a series of workshops designed to test and validate the assembly process.
[The following is a transcript from a talk I gave at the 2019 Minerals, Materials, and Society Symposium at the University of Delaware in August, 2019. It has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Good afternoon and thank you all for
coming. I want to change tracks for a bit and scan the horizon to think about
what the future of exploration and monitoring in the high seas might look like
because ocean and conservation technology is in the midst of an evolutionary
shift in who has access to the tools necessary to observe the deep ocean.
This is the Area. Areas Beyond National
Jurisdiction, International Waters, the High Seas, the Outlaw Ocean. It’s the
portion of the ocean that falls outside of national EEZs and is held in trust
by the UN under the Convention on the Law of the Sea as the Common Heritage of
Humankind. It covers 64% of the ocean and nearly half of the total surface of
the Earth. It’s also the region in which most major deep-sea mining ventures
intend to operate.
Happy FSF! As some of you may know (and for those who don’t), I study the bottom of the ocean, and I do so primarily using innovative technology to image the seafloor (e.g., Wormcam). The interesting work I’ve conducted has resulted in me having the opportunity to present my work to a larger lay audience, in the form of a TEDx presentation.
(Photo Credit: TEDx Newport)
I am giving my TED talk with my good buddy and colleague Steve Sabo. In our talk, “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Worms”, Steve & I will illustrate the significance of the ocean floor through advancements in underwater camera technology and data visualization, making complex science more accessible for everyone.
The oceans belong to all of us. With this simple statement in mind, the Oceanography for Everyone (OfE) project was launched with the goal of making ocean science more accessible. One of the biggest hurdles in conducting ocean science is instrumentation costs, and 4 years ago the OfE team began trying to make one of the most basic ocean science tools, the CTD (a water quality sensor that measures Conductivity-Temperature-Depth), cheaper… much, much cheaper!
Julia Wester is the Director of Program Development for Field School. She received her PhD from the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami in 2016. Her dissertation studied the psychology of decision making about the environment, specifically with regard to limited water resources. She also received a Msc with Distinction in Biodiversity Conservation and Management from Oxford University and worked as a Legislative Aide in South Florida, focusing on environmental policy. She has consulted with nonprofit programs to evaluate their educational programs and assisted with training staff to conduct effective public outreach.
The folks at Southern Fried Science, as part of their commitment to research and education, have generously given us this platform to talk about our educational start-up, Field School. (Thanks, SFS!). They’ve also been kind enough to get excited about working with us to develop and test new research techniques, study awesome animals and ecosystems, and improve marine science field education—so stay tuned for some of those upcoming collaborations!
What is field school?
Field School is a hybrid company on a mission to support field research in marine and environmental science, and create high-quality educational and training opportunities for students and the public. We offer hands-on, research focused courses on a variety of topics, from corals to sharks, on our 55’ custom live-aboard research vessel.
Field School offers researchers and students opportunities to engage with and study tropical marine ecosystems. Photo credit: Kristine Stump
Part of what makes Field School special is the team we’ve brought together. Our captain and crew all have doctoral and/or masters degrees in marine or environmental science, have authored numerous scientific publications, and have a combined 25 years of experience in field education and outreach. We have developed short- and long-term training and mentoring opportunities for students, teach highly reviewed and award-winning university courses, and work with partner non-profits to create outreach programs for the public. We collaborate closely with our scientific advisory board and partner universities to develop the conservation and research projects our students work on, ensuring their time in our courses is professionally relevant and meaningful.
Joey Maier is a biology professor at Polk State College where he uses every possible opportunity to encourage his students to spend time in the water, play with technology, and do #CitizenScience. As an undergraduate, he did a stint as an intern for Mark Xitco and John Gory during their dolphin language experiments. He then spent the years of his M.Sc. at the University of Oklahoma thawing out and playing with bits of decaying dolphin. After discovering that computers lack that rotten-blubber smell, Joey became a UNIX sysadmin and later a CISSP security analyst.
While his pirate game is weak, he is often seen with a miniature macaw on his shoulder. His spare time is spent SCUBA diving and trying to hang out with people who have submersibles. You can follow him on Twitteror Facebook.
There’s a Klingon bird of prey hanging from the ceiling in my office.
I may teach biology, but at heart I’m a sci-fi nerd. Naturally, I’m interested in futurism, robots, lasers and all manner of techy paraphernalia. I’d been watching the OpenROV project for a while, but hadn’t gotten one yet. They were obviously awesome little machines that gave me a serious case of gadget envy, and I knew that some of our students would love to pilot an ROV. I needed a much better reason than that, however, to justify getting one. There’s no line item in our budget for, “Wow, that’s cool!” and I was fairly certain that the college administration would tend to favor lower cost and more familiar forms of student engagement
Photo courtesy Joey Maier.
This tweetchanged everything. When I found out that Andrew had designed a mini-Niskin bottle, the wheels in my head started turning. Assembling an OpenROV would, naturally, be a very STEM-oriented project. The times our students piloted the ROV could become water sampling field trips, and the kids could analyze their samples back at school as a laboratory activity. If students recorded the process, they could make a short film. I mulled over the possibilities and bounced ideas off of my dive buddies during the hours we spent traveling to and from the coast. Read More
I’ve been watching, exploring, and working with the folks at OpenROV since their last Kickstarter, way back in 2012. Today they announce the launch of Trident, the next generation underwater vehicle, and one of the most capable microROVs that I’ve ever seen. I had the rare pleasure to join them in Lake Tahoe this May to test fly one of the earliest prototypes, and it surpassed all of my expectations.
1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science? You bet. OpenROV have been building underwater vehicles for upwards of four years. I use their robots in my research and education programs. The first peer-reviewed publication using OpenROV as a research platform will be coming out at the end of the month. Read More
I first heard about the new Wyoming law #SF0012 through the Slate article summarizing it as a criminalization of citizen science. There’s a real danger that it could be interpreted and implemented that way, but let’s try and give Wyoming the benefit of the doubt for a minute. The text of the law only requires that scientists (citizen or otherwise) acquire written or verbal permission from landowners for collecting data on their land. It goes on to define what “data” means, including photographs in a fairly wide definition, and “collecting” as taking data with the intention of turning it over to a state or federal agency. It also defines trespassing and outlines the consequences for those who fail to receive permission. In short: the data collector could go to jail and their data will not be admissible in legal or policy proceedings.
At the core, the law re-hashes a fairly common definition of trespassing. The key part of the law that’s new is that the data won’t be admissible in court and the act of turning them over to federal or state agencies will make you an outlaw. Part of me thinks that data collectors, including citizen science groups, should be asking permission to go on someone’s land. This is both to keep ethics at the forefront of our scientific endeavors and for the personal safety of scientists (ranchers are known to carry shotguns, after all). Read More
Dr. Mickey von Dassow is a biologist who studies how biomechanics affects development-environment interactions. He received his PhD in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, studying how fluid flow affects colonial marine animals. As a postdoc (U. of Pittsburgh), he studied the mechanics of tissue movements that shape amphibian embryos. Currently he is a guest research scientist at the Duke Marine Lab, and works primarily on sea urchin embryos.
“IGoR! Fetch me a protocol!” Provided by Michelangelo von Dassow.
Can everyone do scientific research? I hope to convince you the answer is “yes.” I’m trying to develop an online platform (http://IGoR.wikidot.com) to help amateur scientists and other science enthusiasts do their own scientific research, while at the same time helping experienced scientists tap into the skills and creativity of a broader community. I hope you’ll love the idea and want to help me spark IGoR to life*.
Currently, the vast majority of scientific research is done by professionals supported by big institutions, such as universities, government labs, or corporations. It’s difficult for even a trained and experienced scientist to find the resources and time to do research without this backing. There are pockets of science where amateurs frequently make substantial contributions (e.g. amateur astronomy and taxonomy). However, it wasn’t that long ago that the majority of science was done by people – such as Darwin and Wallace – who were outside academia. In fact, the great intellectual revolutions that created modern science were not started by trained scientists: there were no trained scientists at the time!