Mapping the Oceans with Underwater Drones

Soon as Pete LeHardy, business development manager at the Phoenix International in Louisiana, learned about the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, his crew headed for Australia to find the wreckage.  For 70 days, the crew’s automatic underwater vehicle (AUV) called Artemis, searched more than 850-square kilometers of ocean depths.  As with 26 other countries that joined the search, their efforts were futile.

Although Artemis, also known as the Bluefin-21, is among the pioneer drones that were mainly used for commercial research in the oil and gas industries, similar drones have since been assembled and used by universities and research organizations, to explore the ocean depths for wreckage and marine life.  According to Dr. Paul Bunje, Ph.D., director at the California-based XPRIZE Foundation, NASA’s exploration budget is 150 times greater than NOAA’s.  This means we know more about the outer space than our own oceans.  Dr. Bunje hopes the government would prioritize ocean exploration.  In May, tragedy struck Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).  One of it AUVs, Nereus, imploded six miles deep in the Pacific Ocean.  It was 30 days into the Kermadec Trench exploration.  Sadly, its remaining missions were scrapped.  This tragedy left a huge impact on everyone involved in deep ocean exploration.

Artemis was created to find wreckage underwater.  Equipped with basic sonar and underwater cameras, Artemis calculates the depth of the area, dives into the ocean, and photographs the terrain.  Although LeHardy’s initial search of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 failed, they were able to successfully unraveled an unexplored part of the ocean.  With the photographs they collected, the team is closer to finding the wreckage when the search reboots in August.

Dr. Bunje says that the ocean is their final frontier.  Ultimately, the goal is to map the entire depths of our oceans.  This will enable them to find every wreckage underwater, unravel marine habitats, and prove or debunk ocean mysteries that has hounded us for many centuries.

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