Abyssal Benthic Rover, an autonomous vehicle for long-term monitoring of deep-ocean processes

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

Science Robotics








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.

Funding Number

OCE0242472 (2002–2006

Funding Sponsor

National Science Foundation


Moss Landing Marine Laboratories