Transects in the deep: Opportunities with tele-operated resident seafloor robots

autun.purser [ at ]


Scientific, industrial and societal needs call urgently for the development and establishment of intelligent, cost-effective and ecologically sustainable monitoring protocols and robotic platforms for the continuous exploration of marine ecosystems. Internet Operated Vehicles (IOVs) such as crawlers, provide a versatile alternative to conventional observing and sampling tools, being tele-operated, (semi-) permanent mobile platforms capable of operating on the deep and coastal seafloor. Here we present outstanding observations made by the crawler “Wally” in the last decade at the Barkley Canyon (BC, Canada, NE Pacific) methane hydrates site, as a part of the NEPTUNE cabled observatory. The crawler followed the evolution of microhabitats formed on and around biotic and/or abiotic structural features of the site (e.g., a field of egg towers of buccinid snails, and a colonized boulder). Furthermore, episodic events of fresh biomass input were observed (i.e., the mass transport of large gelatinous particles, the scavenging of a dead jellyfish and the arrival of macroalgae from shallower depths). Moreover, we report numerous faunal behaviors (i.e., sablefish rheo- and phototaxis, the behavioral reactions and swimming or resting patterns of further fish species, encounters with octopuses and various crab intra- and interspecific interactions). We report on the observed animal reactions to both natural and artificial stimuli (i.e., crawler’s movement and crawler light systems). These diverse observations showcase different capabilities of the crawler as a modern robotic monitoring platform for marine science and offshore industry. Its long deployments and mobility enable its efficiency in combining the repeatability of long-term studies with the versatility to opportunistically observe rarely seen incidents when they occur, as highlighted here. Finally, we critically assess the empirically recorded ecological footprint and the potential impacts of crawler operations on the benthic ecosystem of the Barkley Canyon hydrates site, together with potential solutions to mitigate them into the future.

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DOI 10.3389/fmars.2022.833617

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Chatzievangelou, D. , Thomsen, L. , Doya, C. , Purser, A. and Aguzzi, J. (2022): Transects in the deep: Opportunities with tele-operated resident seafloor robots , Frontiers in Marine Science, 9 , p. 833617 . doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.833617

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