For the past two years, 2 benthic crawlers, Wally I and Wally II have served alternating stints helping scientists at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany explore and study the uniquely dynamic environment of the gas hydrate outcrops in Barkley Canyon.
Each time we swap out one Wally from the seafloor, the other Wally takes its place on the seafloor. With each replacement we have seen improvements in the replacement crawler's instrumentation and capabilities. The currently deployed Wally I is no exception.
In addition to Wally's front driving and science video camera, Wally I is now equipped with a high-definition side-mounted camera. This camera can record multiple images while the crawler drives and rotates, which can be combined to create large mosaic images like the one below, constructed from 70 separate HD images.
Visual surveys like these provide a good overview of the local area. And, by making regular surveys, the Jacobs University researchers will be able to study variations over time. The scientists have been surprised to find that some changes are remarkably rapid. The following pair of images were taken of the same place on 24 and 26 September 2012. Careful comparison reveals numerous changes over the 2-day period. Fish, crustaceans and even clams moved. Bacterial mats grew in some places and diminished in others. One sizeable patch of bacterial mat disappeared completely! The research team at Jacobs University are trying to understand the complex dynamics of this unique ecosystem and hope to publish some of their findings in the near future.
In the coming weeks, the Jacobs University team will undertake an intensive study campaign.