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Environment | Water

Ocean Observatories Project Collects High Definition Video From The Deep Sea

A dumbo octopus visits a lobate lava flow on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

A dumbo octopus visits a lobate lava flow on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

University of Washington


The floor of the Pacific Ocean is a world of extremes. Temperatures range from near freezing to 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Fluids releasing from hot water vents can be highly toxic with a pH of near 4.0, about that of vinegar. And sunlight is nonexistent, making photosynthesis impossible.

But it’s also a place of exquisite spare beauty and colorful creatures.

This video captures this alien world much better than words ever could (Click to watch). Undergraduate student Caitlin Russell edited the video as part of her final project for University of Washington’s Sea-going Research & Discovery Course, also known as the coolest summer course ever.

A University of Washington team of scientists, engineers and educators brought 20 graduate and undergraduate students on board a 274-foot University of Washington-operated research vessel called the Thomas G. Thompson. They recently returned from a 47-day expedition as part of the Oceans Observatory Initiative to deploy and test 22,000 meters of fiber optic submarine cables as part of what will become the largest underwater observatory in the world. (Here’s a video introduction to the journey.)

Students worked side by side with oceanographers and engineers and conducted their own projects using data collected by a giant remote operating vehicle called ROPOS. Each student shared first-hand accounts of the journey and their research projects.

The voyage was part of a multi-million dollar National Science Foundation project, which when it’s finished in 2015, it will bring internet to the seafloor. A global audience will have direct access to an array of data that will paint a detailed picture of the deep seas of the Pacific never possible before. Among the myriad instruments deployed was a high-definition video camera that began collecting footage this summer.

Many hours of high-definition video has already been collected. Check out this gallery of short videos that capture highlights from the expedition, including up close views of cable being laid, a visit to a hydrothermal field of lava flows and black chimney smokers, and dolphins swimming alongside the research vessel.

— Katie Campbell

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