Cutting the Umbilical: New Technological Perspectives in Benthic Deep-Sea Research
In Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, MDPI, volume 4, number 2, pages 1-27, May/2016.
Many countries are very active in marine research and operate their own research fleets. In this decade, a number of research vessels have been renewed and equipped with the most modern navigation systems and tools. However, much of the research gear used for biological sampling, especially in the deep-sea, is outdated and dependent on wired operations. The deployment of gear can be very time consuming and, thus, expensive. The present paper reviews wire-dependent, as well as autonomous research gear for biological sampling at the deep seafloor. We describe the requirements that new gear could fulfil, including the improvement of spatial and temporal sampling resolution, increased autonomy, more efficient sample conservation methodologies for morphological and molecular studies and the potential for extensive in situ real-time studies. We present applicable technologies from robotics research, which could be used to develop novel autonomous marine research gear, which may be deployed independently and/or simultaneously with traditional wired equipment. A variety of technological advancements make such ventures feasible and timely. In proportion to the running costs of modern research vessels, the development of such autonomous devices might be already paid off after a discrete number of pioneer expeditions.