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Wednesday, November 21, 2007: The SOS and FALA experiment
After 2 days of surface supply diving, I was very happy to have a little less physically strenuous day in the lab. I worked with the experiments that Charmaine Ryan’s SOS class in Watsonville, CA and Mindy Bell’s biology and chemistry classes in Flagstaff, AZ built for the ROV to perform down here. So even though the students can’t be here, a bit of each of their spirits, captured in film, is here in Antarctica, and even underwater!
Nick positions VideoRay to take images
of the experiments built by high school
classes in California and Arizona.


One of the big performance tests for an ROV to be used for science is visual acuity. As an ecologist, I need to be able to identify animals that the ROV captures in its cameras. The classes were helping us by building an experiment to test the visual acuity of the ROV, and assess the maximum distance, and minimum light level, that is needed for correct identification.
Some of the many species of sponges, anemones, corals
and other animals that ecologists need to identify.

We sent engineering drawing to the classes, and it was up to them to figure out how to interpret the 2 dimensional representation and build the system. There was room for suggestions and improvement – as there always is. We brought with us the frame they built, and images for identification – but instead of identifying Antarctic sponges and seastars, the students were to identify themselves and their class mates. Each student sent a laminated self portrait that could be laced into the frame.

Here is the specification sheet for the experiment, ready to be turned in to reality by the students.

With the experimental systems assembled, we headed down to Winter Quarters Bay and lowered them and the ROV into the water. Nick showed a steady hand as chief pilot, with Rusty as assistant. They flew around and took images near and far away, at high and low light levels. Which do you predict would provide the easiest combination for good identification?
Nick and Bryan next to the assembled frame and pictures.

My job today was to convert the hours of video into shorter relevant data that can be sent over the very small internet pipe from McMurdo to California and Arizona. The SOS and FALA students will then interpret the image data, and get beck to us with a report on how close we have to get, and how powerful our lights have to be, for us to identify not only McMurdo animals, but also high school students!
The SOS class underwater in Antarctica!


So cool! I pictured the frame lying on the ground instead of held upright (which is how it looks at least). How did you "hang" it and how deep were those darn students? At least they got to "chill" in 28F water!

Hi Mindy - we hung the frame with parachute cord from the ceiling of the dive hut and lowered them down about 30 feet where there was less light interference through the dive hole. Now you have a bunch of cool kids!

Will the frame stay there, be moved to different locations (deeper,etc.), re-tested later in the season, or was all the necessary information collected this first time?

how awesome...! how interisting how could u do that underwater do...! dosent the pictures get wet or not! keep it on

We returned the frames (and students) to the surface. We collected data (images) at 2 light levels and 2 distances, which is what is needed to let the students determine what is required for correct identification.

The pictures are laminated so they do not get wet. However, we did have a small issue where the frame got too close to the propane heater in the hut and a couple of the pictures got extra-laminated, or slightly melted!

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.