Custom Microscope for Ocean Exploration

Ocean PictureResearchers of oceanography have, for a while, been crafting new and innovative technology to explore more of the ocean floor. While engineers have churned out everything from humanoid robots to submersibles, there is something to be said for getting up close. This is why a research team at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has created an underwater microscope. This new exploration technology is meant to be operated by divers and studies naturally occurring processes on the seafloor at a millimeter scale. Biological processes on the ocean floor have, in the past, been observed by taking samples from different areas to labs. This microscope gives researchers the unique opportunity to study biological processes as they happen, undisturbed.

It is called the Benthic Underwater Microscope, and it is the first device able to take data from the ocean floor at such a small scale. It has a diver interface that is attached to a microscopic imaging unit. The unit itself is magnified, has LED lights for fast exposure times, and has the ability to change focus, much like the human eye does to best view what it is studying. According to the researchers, this microscope even has the ability to see single cells.

This new device was first tested in the Red Sea. The researchers wanted to see how much of the interaction between two corals it could pick up. The microscope showed that these corals, who were rivals, were actually emitting filaments to secrete enzymes in attempts to break down the tissue of the other. It was a purely chemical battle for more space on the ocean floor. The researchers made sure of this by moving two coral of the same species close to each other and observing that the same chemical warfare did not take place. This has determined that coral are smart enough to recognize if they are surrounded by others of their kind or by different species, and they react accordingly.

The next target of the researchers was just off of Maui, where a large coral bleaching event had taken place. The microscope showed that initial signs of algae colonization were happening on the bleached coral, in between coral polyps. This discovery is huge in the study of the abilities of algae. It shows that algae is able to completely take over coral when bleaching is occurring.

The above are just initial findings of this new microscope, but they show the vast implications of its creation. Instead of having to bring samples of life on the ocean floor back to a lab, this device allows the ocean floor to become a lab. With it, researchers are able to see microscopic processes happening at a natural rate. I am excited to see what else we will find.  

Ocean Exploration Finds Lost Ship

95 years ago, a ship carrying over fifty crew members vanished, seemingly into thin air. The USS Conestoga was acquired by the Navy in the year 1904, meant to be a mine sweeper and fleet tender. It was used for several years to transport military items, such as ammunition, from one place to another. When not in active duty, it towed disabled ships, and eventually became a fleet tug. In the year 1921, the USS Conestoga left California and never arrived at its destination in Hawaii. Extensive searches were deployed to locate this ship and crew, but they all came back futile. 95 years after the USS Conestoga was lost, ocean explorers have found the remains to this ship.

The remains were discovered near the Great Farallones Islands, located over 56 kilometers deep. A branch of the NOAA that helped discover these remains confirmed they belonged to the USS Conestoga at the end of March. Apparently, the ship’s voyage did not get very far from California. The remains are only a little over 30 kilometers from San Francisco.

It is speculated that the ship encountered a storm on its way and could not make its way to a protective cove. Logs from 1921 show that the wind gusts at sea had reached over 40 MPH when the USS Conestoga went out, and the water was choppy as a result. The protective cove in which it was attempting to take shelter was a nearby lighthouse, but the conditions of the water were too much for the ship to take. None of the crew members made it out alive, and the ship was torn to pieces.

Although the finding of the remains was reported a mere month ago, there has been a lot of speculation surrounding the location of the USS Conestoga. In fact, the speculation has existed for at least seven years. In the summer of 2009, the NOAA was scanning the seafloor with a multibeam sonar when it noticed ship remains near San Francisco. The wreck was uncharted, and investigated with an autonomous underwater vehicle that collected images in the year 2014. It took a couple of years, but a team was finally able to match enough evidence of the wreck to match it to the USS Conestoga.

This discovery, 95 years later, has been very important for history records, not to mention for the descendents of the victims of the wreck. It is truly amazing what ocean exploration brings to light.