How underwater mapping could preserve the future of our oceans

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How remote controlled vehicles are mapping the future …


We are killing our oceans. It is not hyperbole. For years, scientists have been telling us that climate change and our addiction to plastics are directly responsible for the decline in ocean health. This is perhaps most evident in Australia’s famous Great Barrier Reef.

A study published in October found that about half of the reef has died out since the 1990s, largely due to record-breaking temperatures. The key to coral reef (and other similar) survival is data. This is where the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a non-profit organization that uses advanced technology to map the ocean floor, comes in. We talked to Institute doctor Carlie Wiener. You can watch the interview in the video above.

Underwater swimming of corals and tropical fish.

A diver at the Great Barrier Reef, off Queensland, Australia.

Bob Halstead / Getty Images

“We are able to characterize or understand environments”. says Wiener. “That information is made publicly available so that ocean policy makers can better understand and create boundaries for protected areas and regulations.”

Schmidt scientists sail the world on a research vessel called the Falkor, equipped with a wide range of scientific equipment, including depth sounders, an aerial observation airship and a remote-controlled vehicle called the SuBastian. Capable of deep dives up to 4,500 meters, SuBastian features several high-definition cameras and is designed to be modular, which allows operators to customize the proprietary ROV for each mission.


The Falkor was a German fishing vessel built in 1981 and adapted in 2012.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

It was through those cameras last month that people all over the world watched live as Schmidt scientists explored one of their most significant discoveries: a 500 meter high coral reef that is part of the Great Barrier Reef. It was the first to be discovered there in over 120 years. “We knew we had found something, but we didn’t know what it would be like,” Wiener said. “So we were all very excited about the dive.”

Due to the height of the coral reef, scientists were able to observe how the different systems living within it have changed at different depths. “(They) have deep corals growing on them, down to the shallows of 30 to 40 meters that had schools of fish and sharks and amazing healthy corals,” Wiener said.


A fish spotted on the newly discovered 500 meter high coral reef.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

It is from coral that scientists hope they can learn how to protect our oceans. In particular, Schmidt’s scientists are interested in ancient corals which, according to them, contain crucial information from the past. Researchers can extract that data, including temperature and ocean currents. “We use this information to create models for the future,” Wiener said, “so we can better understand what the impacts of a warm climate are on our oceans.”

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