A robot with a bright light and the ability to transmit images can reveal huge orange coral sea fans, bright green sponges and an occasional deep-sea fish — from the ocean floor 1,300 feet down.
Even an experienced diver couldn’t go to that depth, where temperatures hover around 40 degrees, said Peter Etnoyer, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But the crew aboard NOAA’s research vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, can use its robot to live stream images from such canyons and other places along the ocean floor. And it did that Friday for a gathering of marine biologists, staff and visitors at the S.C. Aquarium.
It marked the first time the Okeanos crew transmitted images from a mission to a public audience, said Paula Keener, a marine biologist and director of education programs for NOAA.
NOAA and the aquarium worked to set up a room with plasma screens, and groups could come in and watch what was going on. The scientists also were able to communicate online with the crew from the Okeanos, which was about 100 miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
A group of children from Bluffton stared at the screen as the robot moved along the ocean floor sending its images of various sea creatures.
Tyler Montford, who is 10, said the images were awesome.
Brian Thill, the aquarium’s assistant director of education programs, called the experience “fantastic and amazing.”
Children learn about explorers like Lewis and Clark in school, he said. This technology gave the children and everybody else who was watching the opportunity to be explorers. “Today, they are just like Lewis and Clark,” he said.
Keener said the ocean is unexplored territory, and now, with the help of researchers, people can explore it in real time. The ocean covers 74 percent of the planet, she said, but only about 5 percent of it has been explored.
Adults visiting the aquarium also were impressed with the images.
“It’s really neat,” said Dustin Dargis who was visiting from Augusta, Ga. “It’s definitely a unique experience to see it live,” he said.
He also said he thinks such events can help people become more aware of the ocean’s environmental health. “You’ll be able to see the impact of fishing and other things,” he said.
Keener said the technology also allows the marine scientists to get input from scientists who specialize in other fields. For instance on Friday, several other scientists, including a geologist, were watching from other sites and providing input online. That’s important, she said, because “ocean exploration, by definition, has to be multidisciplinary.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.
Aquarium visitors watch a live feed from deep canyons along the ocean floor. The crew aboard the NOAA’s ship, the Okeanos Explorer, transmitted the images Friday/×
Brian Thill, assistant director of education, talks to fellow S.C. Aquarium employees while NOAA biologists watch a live feed of the ocean floor by the crew aboard the Okeanos Explorer off the New England coast.×
NOAA biologist J.D. Dubick (left) and College of Charleston graduate student Matt Rittinghouse watch a live feed from the ocean floor at the S.C. Aquarium.×
NOAA biologist and aquarium employees and visitors watch a live feed from the ocean floor at the S.C. Aquarium Friday.×