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. 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 meters 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.