Remotely-operated, underwater vehicles are complementing ship based science to aid long-term ocean exploration over a wide range of temporal and spacial-scales. These instruments survey regions and collect information by providing data and high definition visualizations of areas hard-to-explore by humans. Given the importance of the ocean in human history and its role in regulating climate, utilizing technology has become indispensable in providing valuable information to solve some of the most complex environmental issues around the world.
This activity involves building small Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) from Sea Perch kits, produced and distributed by the Office of Naval Research. The activity describes the differences between an ROV and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and explains the scientific applications of each. This link also has a brief background on the use of underwater vehicles in Antarctica.
If it is not possible to build multiple ROVs with students, one ROV can be used for demonstration purposes. For example, in a year in which I could not get funding for multiple kits, I used one I had already built, attached a GoPro camera to it, and allowed my students to use it to explore different water depths in the Blue Hill Bay in my hometown.
If building one ROV is not possible, there are incredible resources about using ROVs for ocean exploration at www.nautiluslive.org
During the dive season, it is possible for students and the general public to interact live with ROV pilots during dives happening from E/V Nautilus.
When explaining ROV technology and its scientific applications, I always remind myself to "start at the beginning." Although many people are aware of ROVs, they are often unaware of how they work and where they are used. The topic is interesting to small children and adults alike, particularly when they have an opportunity to view footage taken from an ROV.
WHOI scientist, Dr. Christopher German, recently used an ROV to explore hydrothermal vents in the Arctic Ocean. He was recently featured in Popular Science magazine: http://www.popsci.com/chris-german-underwater-geochemist-explorer
His work is particularly groundbreaking and may help scientists predict what life forms may exist around hydrothermal vents of the frozen seas of Europa, a moon of Jupiter!