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Rapid data analysis at sea leads to largest 3D color reconstruction of the seafloor

A recent expedition led by Dr Blair Thornton, Associate Professor at the University of Southampton, demonstrated how the use of autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence at sea can dramatically accelerate the exploration and study of hard to reach deep sea ecosystems, like intermittently active methane seeps.

Thanks to rapid high throughput data analysis at sea, a multinational team aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor created a photogrammetric map of one of the best studied gas hydrate deposits – the Hydrate Ridge Region off the coast of Oregon. The resulting 3D color reconstruction of the seafloor is believed to be the largest by area, in the world, measuring more than 118,000 square meters or 11.8 hectares, and covering a region of approximately 500 x 350 meters.

This project demonstrated how modern data science can greatly increase the efficiency of conventional research at sea, and improve the productivity of interactive seafloor exploration with the all too familiar “stumbling in the dark” mode.

“Developing totally new operational workflows is risky, however, it is very relevant for applications such as seafloor monitoring, ecosystem survey and planning the installation and decommissioning of seafloor infrastructure,” said Dr Thornton, who is also Associate Professor at the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo.