Researchers look at deepest ocean floor

July 28th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Research News

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scientists with sediment samples collected from the Mariana Trench by Nereus; photo by Barbara Fletcher, U.S. Navy

UH geophysicist Patricia Fryer, center, and colleague Tim Shank discuss sediment samples collected from the Mariana Trench by Nereus; photo by Barbara Fletcher, U.S. Navy

ROV Nereus is launched from UH's R/V Kilo Moana; photo by Matt Heintz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

ROV Nereus is launched from UH's R/V Kilo Moana; photo by Matt Heintz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The remotely operated vehicle Nereus; photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The remotely operated vehicle Nereus; photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

A new type of deep-sea robotic vehicle called Nereus has reached the deepest part of the world’s ocean—the Mariana Trench 6.8 miles below the surface in the western Pacific Ocean.

Nereus is a hybrid—an unmanned vehicle that can be remotely operated by pilots aboard a surface ship via a lightweight, micro-thin, fiber-optic tether or switched into a free-swimming, autonomous vehicle.

The first vehicle to explore the Mariana Trench since 1998, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Nereus performed well during a two-week engineering test cruise on the University of Hawaiʻi’s R/V Kilo Moana.

UH geologist and co-chief scientist for the expedition, Patricia Fryer was on board to examine samples retrieved during each remotely operated dive along with colleagues from Woods Hole and Johns Hopkins University.

“The samples include sediment from the subducting and overriding tectonic plates that meet at the trench and, for the first time, rocks from deep exposures of Earth’s crust close to mantle depths south of the Challenger Deep,” says Fryer. Integrating laboratory analyses with new mapping data will “tell a story of plate collision in greater detail than ever before accomplished in the worlds oceans,” she adds.

Also on board was a Discovery Studios crew, which has been documenting design and construction of the vehicle. A one-hour documentary is planned on the Science Channel early this fall.


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