Last month, a new kind of aquatic robot took a test cruise through the waters of Monterey Bay off California. The Tethys autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), could be just the thing to circumvent some of the problems that have been holding back marine research bots:
The two types of AUVs that researchers have relied on in the past both had their drawbacks. Propeller-driven vehicles could travel at a relatively quick pace and carry big payloads but could only be out at sea for a few days. Another type, called gliders, could endure weeks-long expeditions but were seriously lacking in the speed category. Traditional gliders top out at about 0.5 mph, according to the team’s statement. [CNET]
Tethys, however, enjoys the best of both worlds—endurance and scientific prowess. It employs variable buoyancy, rather than the less efficient “slightly buoyant” feature most AUVs use so they’ll float up to the surface in an emergency. Its power-saving software turns off systems not in use. All this, plus its efficient propeller and hull design, allows Tethys to save enough energy to carry sophisticated scientific equipment and still stay out to sea for more than a few days.
If you thought the toxic bubbling lakes of asphalt DISCOVER covered on Friday were impressive, you ought to see what’s under the sea just off the California coast: giant volcanoes made from the same stuff we use to pave our roads.
Lead author David Valentine and his colleagues first found these asphalt volcanoes in 2007 when they sent submersible robots to explore peculiar formations 700 feet below the surface. Now, in a study in Nature Geoscience, the team has published its findings and its images of the extinct volcanoes. Valentine says the formations are six stories high, and spread out farther than a football field. “If I could convert all the asphalt in the largest volcano to gasoline, it would be enough to fuel my Honda Civic for about half a billion miles” [National Geographic], he says.