SUFB 033: ROV for the Deep Sea with Andrew David Thaler



Speak Up For Blue Podcast. ROV’s are widely used in Deep Sea research; however, they are extremely expensive. In today’s Speak Up For Blue Podcast, our guest is none other than the founder of Southern Fried Science, Andrew Thaler and a strong advocate in providing deep sea instrumentation to scientists that is inexpensive and accurate. In addition to running the popular ocean science blog, Andrew is a respected marine conservation geneticist, deep sea biologist, ocean entrepreneur, and guy I’d like to have a beer with. If you have the time, check out the podcast in its entirety below. If you don’t have the time, reprioritize and then check out the podcast in its entirety below.

Deep Sea Research

Andrew got his start in marine biology researching hydrothermal vents, sea floor ecosystems independent of sunlight that host an incredible diversity of marine life. According to Andrew, these habitats are the “closest thing to an alien world that we’ll ever see in our lifetimes.” These environments utilize chemical energy from hydrogen sulfide seeping out of the ocean floor for primary production. This process, called chemosynthesis, releases oxygen and acts as the foundation for the rest of the vent ecosystem to function. And although we didn’t know these chemosynthetic habitats existed until about forty years ago, deep sea animals have apparently known for a while. I’ll let Andrew describe what it’s like to travel down to this environment using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV):

ROVs Play A Crucial Role In Deep Sea Data Collection


“It’s just unmitigated awe. You’re diving through the darkness, there’s nothing to see until you reach the bottom…it takes 3 or 4 hours to get there. And it’s 3 to 4 hours of darkness, occasionally some plankters will zip by, you might see some marine snow, but you actually leave the lights off for the most part since there’s nothing to see…And then you land, and if your ROV pilots are good, and everything’s been coordinated right, you land right on the site, and it’s just this explosion of biomass. When you hit a hydrothermal vent, it just explodes with life. There are these huge snails, snails the size of your fist that are sitting on top of these volcanic chimneys that are just blowing out black smoke. They’re covered in worms, there’s color to it, there’s octopuses, you’ll see fish, you’ll see crabs. It is just like suddenly landing on an alien world.”

If that doesn’t get you interested in the deep sea, than I award you no points. When he’s not studying the least known areas on earth, Andrew works towards making it easier for you to study these environments on your own. One of his websites, Oceanography for Everyone, provides open source research equipment for a fraction of the retail cost to both professional and citizen scientists. Andrew is also a research consultant for the crowdfunded Open ROV project, which similarly provides an open source remotely operated vehicle to those wishing to explore the marine environment without going bankrupt. Finally, Andrew was the first researcher on the site Patreon, which acts as a subscription service to creative and scientists and provides funding for their work. While projects like Open ROV and Patreon are great examples of successful science crowdfunding campaigns, Andrew is hesitant to say that this method of funding will supplant large private or government grants. Rather, crowdfunding should be used to supplement research by engaging the public in the scientific process. Which bring us to his blog, Southern Fried Science. Created in 2007 during Andrew’s time as a grad student, SFS was initially just meant for him. “I started it as a writing exercise, just for me personally, to hone my ability to write for a general audience, to take some of these concepts I was learning in graduate school and write it in an accessible way and helped me understand it better.” However, since then the blog has exploded in popularity to the point where it has become one of the leading websites for accessible ocean news and science. Whether they’re discussing methods for brewing beer onboard a research vessel or debunking myths about the effects of Fukushima radiation on the west coast of the U.S., Andrew and his team of writers have found an entertaining and informative way to engage the public in cutting edge research and issues affecting the oceans.

Enjoy the Podcast!

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