Ocean research in a time of COVID-19

All through the Summer season 2020 CANON experiment, these two Wave Gliders have been zig-zagging more than Monterey Canyon, utilizing echosounders to identify fish and other animals in the drinking water underneath. The echosounders are the cylindrical devices near the back again of each individual Wave Glider. The olive-inexperienced foils less than the Wave Gliders assist propel these autonomous robots throughout the sea surface. Credit score: Chris Wahl/MBARI

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced it in particular difficult for marine scientists to make observations and have out experiments at sea. Investigate cruises have been slash again or canceled since it is hard to continue to keep a protected length between experts and crew in the restricted areas on a investigation vessel. In this current predicament, MBARI’s robotic vehicles and instruments have verified to be quite helpful.

A circumstance in place is MBARI’s Summertime 2020 Controlled, Agile, and Novel Ocean Community (CANON) experiment, which operates from July 14 to August 4. Investigation Affiliate Katie Pitz, who was associated in scheduling the operation, defined, “For this year’s experiment, the precise sampling is becoming completed by autonomous instruments and autos that can be monitored remotely by experts onshore. MBARI has been advancing autonomous technologies for a prolonged time, so this is a excellent illustration of how we can utilize these systems.”

MBARI’s once-a-year CANON experiments generally utilize big numbers of ships, robots, and devices that are deployed far more or much less simultaneously on Monterey Bay to obtain info relevant to a particular bodily and biological system in the bay. CANON experiments are also prospects for researchers to examination out new, cutting-edge systems.

This year’s CANON experiment is created to study massive teams of anchovies and other animals in and all over Monterey Canyon. To determine out where and when these animals congregate in the canyon, researchers from MBARI and the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are combining two extremely different technologies—high-resolution echosounders and environmental DNA (eDNA).

Ocean research in a time of COVID-19
This map, produced by MBARI’s Oceanographic Decision Assist Procedure, displays the paths that Wave Gliders and very long-selection AUVs took as they monitored animals in Monterey Canyon throughout the Summer time 2020 CANON experiment. Credit: MBARI

Scientific echosounders use sound waves to develop pictures of levels of animals at distinctive depths and, in some conditions, even enable scientists to discover these animals. With eDNA investigation, biologists can figure out what types of organisms are in a patch of ocean merely by gathering a sample of seawater and extracting DNA from that seawater. DNA sequences from the seawater are then in comparison with acknowledged DNA sequences for a range of distinctive organisms.

“This technological innovation is analogous to a forensic investigator who finds DNA at a crime scene and compares it to the bank of suspects in the FBI genetic repository,” stated Francisco Chavez, lead researcher on the CANON experiments. “Our suspects,” he continued, “are lifetime in the sea.”

As Pitz noted, NOAA is incredibly intrigued in exploring this new technique. “Microbiologist Kelly Goodwin at NOAA organized the funding for MBARI to collect eDNA samples and examine the success with echosounder observations. Originally we have been likely to have a NOAA ship be element of the experiment, but since of the pandemic, the ship was not equipped to be here.”

Ocean research in a time of COVID-19
Inside of of this underwater robotic (a prolonged-variety autonomous underwater car or LRAUV) is a robotic laboratory called an Environmental Sample Processor, which collects samples of seawater then extracts environmental DNA for later examination onshore. Credit: Erik Trauschke/MBARI

“This analysis applies right to NOAA’s scientific tests of fish stocks,” Pitz described. “They use echosounders on ships to map the distribution of fish and nets to verify which fish are existing. Throughout CANON, we are undertaking the identical detail, other than we are applying echosounders mounted on robots at the surface and gathering eDNA applying underwater robots.”

The floor robots made use of in the CANON experiment are named “Wave Gliders,” and glimpse like squared-off surfboards. All over the experiment, a person Wave Glider is touring a zig-zag path in excess of the internal section of Monterey Canyon, exactly where anchovy universities are often identified. As the Wave Glider moves across the area, its echosounders capture photographs of schools of anchovies and other animals in the h2o under.

Subsequent the Wave Glider on its zig-zag study course is an underwater robotic called a very long-selection autonomous underwater car (LRAUV), which is collecting drinking water samples for eDNA assessment. Around the two-7 days experiment, the LRAUV will accumulate up to 60 drinking water samples making use of an MBARI-created robotic sampling unit named an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP). “This is a person of the to start with times we have utilised the LRAUV to collect samples underwater at the identical places the acoustic Wave Glider is visiting at the surface,” mentioned Pitz.

Ocean research in a time of COVID-19
A Wave Glider glides throughout Monterey Bay through the Summertime 2020 CANON experiment. Image: Chris Wahl/MBARI

Although robots are accomplishing most of the sample and data collection, over two dozen people are also involved in this experiment. All of these experts, engineers, and marine operations workers are wanted to start, recover, and retain the robots, and to method and evaluate the samples and facts.

At the end of the experiment, just after all the robots return to shore, CANON researchers and engineers will start out processing hundreds of samples for eDNA investigation. “During my to start with CANON experiment in Spring 2017, we collected only 4 eDNA samples autonomously,” claimed Pitz. “Now, with numerous ESPs, we have a enormous maximize in the variety of samples we can obtain and will need to course of action.”

“It can be a large amount of work,” she additional. “But getting a lot more samples is wonderful for the science. And the samples can be saved in a freezer and preserved for years. Analytical solutions for eDNA are enhancing swiftly, so it can be good to protect some samples for later evaluation in situation a greater approach comes together.”

  • Ocean research in a time of COVID-19
    For the duration of the Summer 2020 CANON experiment, researchers are screening small “benchtop” DNA sequencers that plug straight into a laptop laptop. Immediately after analyzing one particular h2o sample, the sequencer made a graph showing how significantly DNA was detected from distinctive styles of animals, such as anchovies, copepods, and microscopic algae. Credit rating: Charles Nye/MBARI
  • Ocean research in a time of COVID-19
    Finding out the ocean can be dangerous for robots as effectively as for humans. During the Summer months 2020 CANON experiment, a person LRAUV was bitten by a shark. Researchers pulled a number of fragments of shark teeth from the hull of the auto. Credit history: Top picture: Brian Kieft/MBARI Base picture: Ben Yair Raanan/MBARI

“Talking of slicing edge systems,” Pitz explained, “Yet another interesting facet of this experiment is that MBARI experts Nathan Truelove and Charles Nye are making use of a desktop sequencer to sequence eDNA from h2o samples in in the vicinity of authentic-time—within a working day or so.”

“Benchtop sequencing has a larger error level in examining the DNA than following-generation approaches that contain significant sequencing equipment,” she stated. “So the facts processing is a large amount additional difficult. But currently being able to sequence DNA in a working day would be wonderful in comparison to transport samples out to a lab, which can acquire quite a few weeks. At some point, we hope to be capable to host this very small sequencer on our LRAUV.”

While MBARI engineers have had great accomplishment making robots that converse successfully with just one a different, Pitz mentioned that one of the major challenges in this experiment is trying to keep traces of interaction open among the people associated. “We need to have to determine the best moments and locations to gather samples while producing positive the LRAUV will not burn up out its battery or hit the base. This needs loads of communicating concerning the researchers, engineers, and marine functions team. As a scientist at MBARI, 1 of the issues I’ve acquired is that, in buy to get very good scientific information, you have to have to perform closely with the engineers to comprehend and adapt to the limitations of the tools.”

The Summertime 2020 CANON experiment is a key example of how researchers can obtain broad amounts of helpful knowledge by sending robots instead of individuals out to sea. “This manner of procedure will enhance considerably in the foreseeable future,” mentioned Chavez. “Not only simply because of COVID but simply because of the need to have for persistent and globally distributed observations of life in the sea.”

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