RV BELGICA CRUISE 2014/16 – Blog post 5

The shark with frickin laser-beams attached to its head!

If you have been following our cruise you will notice there has been very little mention of the video work we have been doing. I have left this post until last for a very good reason which will become clear.
For the last year we have been working with a local small business “Mr ROV” on developing a low cost HD camera system for deep-sea research. Not because it takes a year to develop such a system, but because of lack of funding; and that is just it, that is the whole problem, the technology we use in deep sea research these days, although amazing, is prohibitively expensive. This means it is not widely available to most people. Lack of access and the expense of equipment can be a serious barrier to progress, but it need not be so.
This began as an off the cuff remark a year or so ago when I mentioned to Marcus Shirley (Mr ROV) that what we really needed was an HD camera that didn’t need fibre-optics and ideally could run off a CTD wire as almost every research vessel has one of these on board. Marcus and I set about developing an HD camera and earlier this year we took a prototype to the Belgica for testing.

We have a video signal!

We have a video signal!

The tests went well and we were able to get live video through a 1700m long CTD cable. Approximately 8 weeks ago we began work to build a complete towed HD video system. 2 weeks ago (2 days prior to the cruise starting) the system was completed. We packed it on a pallet and got it to Portugal ready for the start of the Belgica campaign.

All packed up and ready to go.

All packed up and ready to go.

This system had never even seen the water prior to this cruise let alone been deployed to the depths of the Atlantic. Naturally we were nervous to say the least about bringing a totally untested system to sea and I have been reluctant to even mention it until now. The system has now completed its last deployment for this cruise and I can now safely say it has performed above and beyond our expectations.
“Deep Search 1” is a 2000m rated towed video system with full HD video and integrated CTD and altimeter; a USBL system provides accurate positioning and twin lasers provide a means of scaling images. This is not a new concept, many institutions have similar towed video systems, what is different about LS1 is it provides full HD video and does not require a fibre optic umbilical or any special cabling, just a standard CTD wire. This makes it highly portable between vessels and reasonably easy to transport.

Deep Search 1 - in the water.

Deep Search 1 – in the water.

On this cruise we have deployed the system 14 times and acquired nearly 10 hours of on-bottom footage. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some tweaks needed (more light for a start), but the system has performed really well and we have been able to see the different seabed types between on-mound and off-mound locations, as well as the different sea-bed dwelling larger fauna that inhabit this area. What we have observed is that the mini-mounds are composed of dense coral rubble and dominated by squat lobsters, while the off mound areas comprise muddier seabed with the tall sea pen (Funiculina quadrangularis) dominating some areas and the anemone Actinauge richardi dominating other areas.

Squat Lobster and Coral

During this campaign we have discovered some important areas of the OSPAR listed “Seapens and burrowing megafauna” habitat that we will be reporting to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in the UK, but no evidence of live reef forming cold water corals. The video now needs to be analysed before we can report our official findings and that will be some time later.

In the meantime this cruise has been a fantastic proof of concept for DS 1 and plans for DS 2 have already been sketched out as a result of what we have learned. We are very grateful to the crew of the Belgica for keeping DS 1 safe and the chief scientist David Van Rooij and Ghent University for trusting us to deliver. DS 1 will hopefully return to sea next year for part 2 of the mini-mound project.