Robotic exploration of the very deep oceans.
Runs the Monterey Bay Aquarium research institute
Comparison between space and ocean exploration: In space, we can use solar panels to power instruments. Not so in ocean. Dependent on batteries, or possibly fiber optic cable out to the deep sea.
In order to keep our seismometer up and running at the bottom of the sea, must pilot ROV out there, change out the LiIon battery. Battery costs $10k, running it out there costs $10k. This is vs. 7 cents of real energy use.
Also communications: No electromagnetic radiation through the ocean, so must be tethered.
In space, no problems with fouling-having barnacles sticking to them.
However, the launch is a bit easier. Escaping gravity is hard. But every time we throw something off the side of a ship it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are an order of magnitude cheaper to build and operate than vehicles that require ship launches-robotic vehicles. Without a tether, don't have to keep the ship running.
This is the same as with Spirit and Opportunity, they use sophisticated AI to get around (with daily commands from operators). NASA found they got minimum 20 percent increase in return on mission when they used AI.
Ice caps. We want to know how much the ice cap is thinning. Built a AUV to go under arctic ice. The AUV was fit with two midsections. One fit with a fuel cell so it can run for 2 weeks. Other has computer is information storage. Every so often, would release torpedo-like thing. Would float, hit bottom of ice cap, then melt through the ice cap and transmit data via satellite. So didn't have to recover AUV at the end of mission to get good data. Didn't have to be 100 percent successful.
We're slowly changing the pH of the ocean to acid. As the CO2 becomes dissolved in the ocean, it reduces its pH. By the end of this century the upper ocean will be more acidic than it has been in 400 million years of life on this planet.
Obviously, there isn't any creature that's used to this. How will this affect the oceans? Specifically, can animals deal with this? How will this affect photosynthesis? Can deep sea organisms adapt to this changing pH?
We're probably at the point where the die is cast. We can't change our fate. But we can understand what the ramifications will be and prepare for those.
Enough doom and gloom: Here's the fun stuff. Earth's midwater is Earth's largest living space. It's the area that's in perpetual darkness. It contains more biomass and biodiversity than all of the rainforests combined. Every time we go out we find new species, new genuses, and sometimes new families.
Sometimes new ecosystems. At bottom of ocean, was grey whale carcass. Suddenly 7 tons of food was delivered to bottom of ocean. 40 percent of all species at bottom of the ocean they found are only found on whale falls. Leads to question: how do they find the whale falls?
They found new family of worm that feeds off bone marrow of whales. No mouth, no stomach. Extracts lipids directly from marrow to feed worm. Also, all were females that they found. Inside the bodies of females that they found were hundreds of dwarf parasitic worms. The males develop only to the point where they can produce sperm. They're in arrested development after that. Question: is this an early form of sexual reproduction, or a later form?
Ha. Just kidding.
In one drop of seawater there are 1000 organisms. But you can't culture 99 percent in the lab. So they've developed a sequencer that reads them in the ocean.
Methane Hydrate: MH4. "The ice that burns." It's the largest remaining source of fossil fuel remaining, but it's buried beneath the continental margins. No way to get at it. But the microbes have found a way, making a deep sea fuel cell.
We've come a long way. But we still can't predict what remains to be discovered.