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Apr 12, 2016 6:29 EST

Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration – New Robot to Explore the Depths of Yellowstone Lake

iCrowdNewswire - Apr 12, 2016

 

 

We are engineers and explorers who plan to help Yellowstone scientists make what could be tomorrow’s greatest discoveries.

About this project

Why explore Yellowstone Lake?

Yellowstone started a proud tradition of protecting our planet’s most unique environments when it became the world’s first National Park more than a century ago. However, there is a part of Yellowstone that very few people have visited. An entire ecosystem that is hidden from us at the surface. A place that scientists are eager to study and may harbor unknown life; the depths of Yellowstone Lake.

We now know that the bottom of the Lake is far from barren, hosting species of crustaceans, sponges, and even small creatures that feed off of the Earth’s heat and chemistry rather than the Sun. ‘Thermophilic’ (or hot water-loving) microbes thrive in the relatively high-temperatures immediately surrounding active thermal features at the bottom of the Lake and scattered throughout Yellowstone Park. These creatures may be microscopic but they have the potential to profoundly influence the medical and biological sciences.

An artist's visualization of the new Yellowstone robot "Yogi" sampling a thermal feature at the bottom of the Lake. Artwork by Michelle Anderst.

An artist’s visualization of the new Yellowstone robot “Yogi” sampling a thermal feature at the bottom of the Lake. Artwork by Michelle Anderst.

The study of one particular microbial species found in the backcountry of the Park in the 1970’s, Thermus aquaticus (Taq), led to the development of the Nobel prize-winning method used to decode DNA and opened the floodgates to modern molecular biology. Researchers believe that because these organisms live in temperatures comparable to those inside the human body, analysis of their metabolic and physiological processes could to lead us to more effective treatments for cancer and other devastating human diseases. NASA scientists have also suggested that these thermal environments, and the unique lifeforms they support, might hold clues to the origin of life on this planet and possibly elsewhere in the universe.

It is estimated that less than 1% of Yellowstone’s microbes have been identified so far and it’s hard to predict what might be learned from those that have yet to be discovered. Many of these unknown species could be at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake right now, but the National Park Service does not have the tools needed to thoroughly characterize the Lake’s deep water ecosystem on their own.

With your help we plan to support the National Park Service by building and operating “Yogi” the Robot, which will be capable of gathering the data they need to more thoroughly understand this unique ecosystem. It is now more feasible and cost-effective to develop a high-quality robotic platform than ever before and it’s finally time to take exploration in Yellowstone Lake to the next level.

Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake. Image courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake. Image courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.

Who is the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration?

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE) is a non-profit engineering organization dedicated to empowering the global science community with robotic tools to explore the world’s oceans and large lakes. GFOE is made up of engineers and explorers who design and operate vehicles used to study the bottom of the ocean and who now plan to build a robot to explore the largely unknown depths of Yellowstone Lake. With the launch of this Kickstarter campaign to build “Yogi” the Robot, we are pioneering a new way to fund underwater exploration–crowdfunding directly through the public, to produce high-definition underwater video and scientific data for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone.

Our President and mentor, Dave Lovalvo, has been exploring the oceans and large lakes of the world with remotely operated vehicles (ROV’s) for over 30 years. In 1985, he had the opportunity to bring the first robotic technology into Yellowstone Lake as an extension of his previous work with underwater vehicles. He partnered with scientists who were interested in studying hydrothermal activity in the Lake at depths greater than what was possible with standard diving techniques. Dave designed the mechanical components, coded the software, and tested and operated this robot himself. This was at a time when ROV’s were an emerging technology and not widely used.

The original Yellowstone Robot, circa 1985. Image courtesy of Bob Landis.

The original Yellowstone Robot, circa 1985. Image courtesy of Bob Landis.
Dave (right) preparing to launch the vehicle. Image courtesy of Bob Landis.

Dave (right) preparing to launch the vehicle. Image courtesy of Bob Landis.

Dave’s novel underwater vehicle was able to capture truly stunning video even with the relatively low-resolution cameras available in the early 1980’s. For the first time, humans were able to see the towering rock formations, sweeping plains, and colorful thermal vents at the bottom of the Lake. Dave and the scientists had discovered what is a complex ecosystem riddled with hydrothermal features as impressive as the geysers that have made Yellowstone so iconic. More than 30 years later, only one other person has gone back into the Lake with robotic technology to help characterize the unique features at its bottom.

Unique rock formations at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake, as imaged by the original Yellowstone Robot.

Unique rock formations at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake, as imaged by the original Yellowstone Robot.
The shadow of a towering rock formation looms in the background, as imaged by the original Yellowstone Robot.

The shadow of a towering rock formation looms in the background, as imaged by the original Yellowstone Robot.
A school of fish swimming in Yellowstone Lake, as imaged by the original Yellowstone Robot.

A school of fish swimming in Yellowstone Lake, as imaged by the original Yellowstone Robot.

We no longer need to rely on one young engineer to design, build, and operate this kind of vehicle on their own. Dave has assembled a team of the brightest young minds in the industry and united them through our non-profit organization. The GFOE team already has experience building and operating underwater robots that explore deep ocean environments in some of the most remote places on Earth through a partnership with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Our engineers have successfully managed over 150 ROV dives at depths of up to 3.7 miles, providing ocean scientists with insight into some of the most inaccessible ecosystems on the planet. They have proven themselves to have the professionalism, talent, and determination to continue what Dave started and carry exploration in Yellowstone Lake through the next 30 years.

As such, we are well positioned to build a next-generation robot designed by a new generation of engineers and create the capability for scientists in Yellowstone to make what could be some of tomorrow’s greatest discoveries.

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration team in front of the ocean-based Deep Discoverer ROV.

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration team in front of the ocean-based Deep Discoverer ROV.

Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone Association have offered to provide guidance on the research priorities and on the education and outreach components of the work done by this new robotic platform. Other groups such as the highly-respected Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, University of Minnesota, and Montana State University will make important contributions in guiding some of the science that will be supported by the robot in the years to come.

Why use crowdfunding for this project?

The cost of this kind of vehicle depends largely on its capabilities but they typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build. However, MBARI has provided us with basic mechanical schematics and control software for “Yogi”, GFOE engineers have already invested the time to adapt the design, and several major components have been privately donated to the project. One of these private donors has even offered a 1:1 match on any funds raised through Kickstarter, up to $100,000. This means that your donation will effectively be doubled. We have many of the important pieces in place but we need at least $100,000 in public support to raise the $200,000 required to actually build “Yogi” and move the project forward.

Here is a summary of how GFOE hopes to use funds raised through Kickstarter, including the 1:1 match:

  • HD Camera: $30,000
  • Robotic Arm: $40,000
  • Thrusters: $45,000
  • Buoyancy Foam Pack: $15,000
  • Navigation Equipment: $20,000
  • Sensors: $25,000
  • Tether System: $15,000
  • Structural Components: $10,000
A photorealistic 3D model of "Yogi" the Robot.

A photorealistic 3D model of “Yogi” the Robot.

“Yogi” is designed to record high-definition video and enable scientists to collect delicate biological, geological, and chemical samples from thermal features at the bottom of the Lake. Some of its specifications include:

  • Dimensions: 3ft x 3ft x 4.5ft (the size of a clothes washer/dryer unit)
  • Weight: 600lbs (scientific payload of up to 120lbs)
  • Depth Rating: 4,920 feet (1500 meters)
  • Thrusters: 4 axial, 2 vertical
  • Multiple high-definition cameras
  • 5-function electric manipulator for sample collection
  • Suction sampler for sediment and biological material
  • Temperature sensor
  • Water sampler for collecting hydrothermal fluids
  • Chemical sensors for analyzing composition of hydrothermal fluids
  • 130-color sonar
  • Acoustic navigation system
  • Expandability for the addition of cameras and sensors in the future

Underwater vehicles of this kind typically have lifespans of 10-20 years which leaves ample opportunity down the road for this robot to explore other large lakes beyond Yellowstone. For now, we at the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration hope to support scientists in a place that is cherished, provide valuable knowledge for future generations, and foster a growing community of young, passionate explorers.

And, right now, you have the opportunity to help make this happen.

Smoky sunset over Yellowstone Lake. Image courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

Smoky sunset over Yellowstone Lake. Image courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

Risks and challenges

GFOE engineers have many years of collective experience with remotely operated vehicles and exploring underwater environments. As such, we are familiar with the challenges that face us in the design, construction, and operation of the Yellowstone Robot. Our successful work with vehicles in the deep ocean gives us confidence in our ability to overcome any engineering issues that we may encounter during development and deployment.

Contact Information:

Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration

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