Abyssal Benthic Rover, an autonomous vehicle for long-term monitoring of deep-ocean processes
The deep-ocean carbon cycle is poorly quantified. An abyssal benthic rover was developed to make long time-series measurements of seafloor processes related to organic carbon remineralization and sequestration. Benthic Rover II (BR-II) is an autonomous dual-tracked vehicle that measures bottom water temperature and oxygen concentration, current velocity, and sediment community oxygen consumption (SCOC; respiration). BR-II is programmed to transit with low surface-contact pressure across the seafloor, photograph bottom conditions, and stop regularly to occupy respirometer incubation sites, with deployment periods up to 1 year. Now, continuously operational at a 4000-m station in the northeast Pacific over 5 years, substantial weekly, seasonal, annual, and episodic events have been recorded, which are critical to assessing the deep-ocean carbon cycle. There was a significant increase in phytodetritus cover (P < 0.01) arriving on the seafloor from the overlying water column between 2015 and 2020 that was negatively correlated with bottom water dissolved oxygen concentration (P < 0.01). Over the continuous 5-year monitoring period from November 2015 to November 2020, SCOC was positively correlated with phytodetritus cover (P < 0.01) and increased significantly from 2015 to 2020 (P < 0.01). These results show important influences of biological processes on the carbon cycle. The demonstrated success of BR-II now creates opportunities to expand the long-term monitoring of the deep sea to resolve the coupling of water column and benthic processes key to understanding the oceanic carbon cycle on a planet engulfed in a changing climate.
National Science Foundation
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
K. L. Smith, A. D. Sherman, P. R. McGill, R. G. Henthorn, J. Ferreira, T. P. Connolly, and C. L. Huffard. "Abyssal Benthic Rover, an autonomous vehicle for long-term monitoring of deep-ocean processes" Science Robotics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1126/scirobotics.abl4925