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At the bottom of the Mediterranean, “BathyBot” will uncover the secrets of the “dark ocean”

published on Friday, January 14, 2022 at 20:32.

A crane gently lowers a small white and yellow “cruiser” mounted on a caterpillar to the bottom of a test bowl at the Ifremer Center in La Seyne-sur-Mer (Var).

On their screens, engineers and scientists are watching the operation of the BathyBot camera, which will soon become the world’s first mobile underwater vehicle permanently mounted at a depth of 2,500 meters, to unravel the mysteries of the bottomless abyss.

“We know less about the deep ocean than the Moon,” explains Christian Tamburini of CNRS, a researcher at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanology. “We don’t know what’s going on there, or the organisms that live there.”

It must be said that the environment is not friendly. The average depth of the oceans that cover 70% of the earth’s surface is 3,800 meters. From 180 meters there was darkness. And at 1,000 meters it is complete darkness, the “dark sea”.

As a result, most scientific research is carried out in the layers near the surface, where life is concentrated.

But in times of climate crisis, it’s important to understand the changes that are causing warming in the oceans and how they will affect these natural carbon sinks, which absorb nearly a third of the CO2 emitted by humans.

Thanks in particular to BathyBot, “we will be able to study what is generated on the surface and what happens to the ground”, says Christian Tamburini.

Another major goal is to understand the biodiversity of the Abyss, a reservoir of life that is poorly understood, although scientists believe the “sixth mass extinction” began.

– See in the dark –

CNRS, as part of the European project, and in collaboration with the public agency Ifremer, will deploy, 40 kilometers off the coast of Toulon, the deepest permanent observation platform in the world. There is only one other, Canada, which is “only” less than 800 meters.

The French project benefits from being in the field of “underwater telescopes” that hunt for cosmic particles. And already served by permanent cables for electricity and data, which will be grafted.

The new observatory will be deployed aboard the Nautile submarine from January 31 to February 14 by Pourquoi Pass, the flagship of the French oceanographic fleet.

And he will have as an emblematic figure, complemented by the Twitter account @bathybot to popularize his inventions, the little “explorer”. One meter long and twenty times wide and 90 centimeters high.

So far it’s seen only with its cousin for space exploration: instead of solar panels, it’s powered by cables, “ropes” that also collect its data, but limit its range to 50 meters. , which moves very slowly.

The distance that can be increased later, with the hope that one day he can even be independent. Provided you troubleshoot your orientation for no GPS less than 2,500 meters away! One possibility is to plant vines with a QR code telling him where he is.

This will be accompanied by static equipment that is lowered at the same time: radiometer (radioactivity), biocamera to capture mainly bioluminescence phenomena, seismographs and BathyReef, a “bio-inspired” artificial reef.

This concrete structure, over 4 meters long and 2.5 meters wide, rises slowly to a height of 1.5 meters. This will give BathyBot a point to climb to expand its field of vision.

Its semi-open structure, with many cracks, would have allowed life forms to settle there, and to study other people’s reactions to these obstacles.

– Power cable –

Another important part of this device, the “scientific junction box”. Intelligent (large) type of power strip that provides power, connects at high speed and monitors all station instruments.

“We will be able to connect the equipment to the bottom of the water, move it, everything can be controlled from the land”, explains Jan Opderbecke, head of the Submarine Systems Unit for the Ifremer fleet.

The BathyBot will be reassembled every two years and can then receive new tools, for example to allow “micro-cores” into the sedimentary soil where it will develop.

The expected service life is at least five to ten years. Something to explain the “dark ocean”.

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