Alvin during a deep sea mission.
As humans venture out to new corners of the world, so do invasive species. This story is old: mice hid out on Viking boats, plant seeds followed scientists to Antarctica, and, now, limpets have hitched a ride on the deep sea submersible Alvin. This last finding, published in Conservation Biology, surprised scientists, who didn’t think that limpets could survive drastic pressure changes as Alvin surfaced between dives.
Since 1964, Alvin, the little sub that could, has made thousands of scientific dives—from surveying the Titanic to exploring hydrothermal vents. The sub and its sampling gear are cleaned between each dive, but this new limpet discovery suggests a mistake happened somewhere down the line.
Researchers have found new examples of the strange singled-celled creatures called xenophyophores more than six miles beneath the surface of the Pacific in the Mariana Trench. At more than four inches in length, they are perhaps the largest single-celled organism on Earth. These protists make a living by sifting through sediments and can accumulate high levels of toxic metals like uranium, lead, and mercury.
Read more at LiveScience.
Image: Lisa Levin & David Checkley, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
After five years of research and three months of testing off the islands of Hawaii, scientists say the first underwater robot explorers powered solely by the ocean are ready for use. So far, all vehicles exploring the depths of the oceans have faced the possibility of running out of fuel, which made scientists wonder if there was any way that the ocean itself could power the vehicle. The answer came in the form of the Sounding Oceanographic Langrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging vehicle (or SOLO-TREC, for short)–a vehicle driven entirely by the natural temperature differences found in the ocean.
The vehicle, a joint project involving NASA, the U.S. Navy, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the University of California at San Diego, completed its testing phase successfully, and scientists hope it can soon be deployed for research projects around the world. Researchers say this technology breakthrough could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance [PhysOrg].
NASA’s Jack Jones says the fact that the robot just keeps going and going, like an aquatic Energizer bunny, brings humanity a little closer to an impossible dream: “People have long dreamed of a machine that produces more energy than it consumes and runs indefinitely…. While not a true perpetual motion machine, since we actually consume some environmental energy, the prototype system demonstrated by [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory] and its partners can continuously monitor the ocean without a limit on its lifetime imposed by energy supply” [CNET].