Puerto Rico Trench

Promare Sends First Robot to the Bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench

Deepest Atlantic Sea Floor Teeming with Life

The culmination of a 2-1/2 year robotic underwater vehicle development effort took place on August 1st and 2nd resulting in 3 hours of video recording and the recovery of the deepest marine life ever found.  It proved that the deepest parts of the ocean can be explored at relatively low cost.

Biologists will now study in detail the high definition video and examine the retrieved samples of what appear to be a form of shrimp. The video also shows fish and what appear to be other life forms on the sea bed; all evidence of highly developed and rich bio-diversity at the bottom of the trench.

The Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean, is about 500 miles long and some 50-125 miles north of Puerto Rico, and is more than 26,000 feet deep.

The attached photos and video clip are the first ever images of the trench floor and its inhabitants.

Gregg Cook, Chairman of PROMARE, is thrilled that “we were the first to send a robot to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench and recover images and actual marine life specimens.”

Developing the ROV and Diving to the Puerto Rico Trench

In order to explore the deepest parts of the world’s oceans on a small budget, Promare began development of a low-cost, full-ocean-depth robotic vehicle system more than two years ago. The prototype vehicle, 11K, is depth-rated to 11,000 meters and can be operated in AUV mode (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) or ROV mode (Remotely Operated Vehicle) mode.  In AUV mode, a route is pre-programmed for the vehicle;  in ROV mode, the vehicle is controlled in real-time by technicians on board the deployment vessel.  To read more about the specifications of the 11K, click here.

Promare’s dive to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench involved the 11K operating in AUV mode. The 11K was deployed and recovered by two team members from an 18-meter charter boat in San Juan.  It descended to the bottom in less than two hours at a speed of 1.25 meters per second.  Just before it reached the seafloor (8,000 feet deep), the system was activated and began to record video.  After three hours of recording, the vehicle dropped its ascent weight vehicle returned to the surface at a speed of about 1 meter per second.  The vehicle was recovered on the surface within 30 minutes using a GPS and Iridium system in conjunction with an SMS message sent to a handheld Iridium phone.

The three-hour dive to an unseen and unexplored part of the Atlantic Ocean recorded depth and temperature profiles as well as deep-water species.   Though no animals appeared at the beginning of the dive, light and bait soon attracted several animals.  Most notable are swarms of amphipods and bottom-crawling creatures.   Of the two invertebrate creatures, Dr. Stace E. Beaulieu of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has identified a sea cucumber.  It has been tentatively assigned to the genus Peniagone.  The other species, which walked and jumped across the sediment, is possibly a munnopsid isopod.  These sightings likely exceed the deepest known depth records for genus Peniagone and family Munnopsidae.

Though it was impossible to recover a sample of the two invertebrate creatures, numerous amphipods were captured and brought to the surface for further study.  Dr. Alan J. Jamieson from the University of Aberdeen is examining the species, of which there are multiple, to determine the dominant species.  It is very possible that a new species will be discovered among them when the study is completed.  Promare will return to the trench with the 11K in 2013 to further explore it from biological, geological, and archaeological perspectives.

 

The Puerto Rico Trench Exploration in the news

A short article can be found on Sea Technology’s E-News blog here.

Sea Technology Magazine has published an article in their magazine written by Promare Director Fredrik Soreide that can be found here.