Maintaining an instrument in the ocean requires a robust design to ensure reliability in a hostile, remote environment. Some instruments carry or generate their own power and sit unattended for long periods of time; many must contend with darkness, cold, and intense pressure while collecting data in the ocean depths. Various instruments communicate with equipment on shore, either to report data or receive instruction.
Within these constraints, new technologies are enabling the creation of a more diverse suite of sensors than has ever existed before. At MBARI, we are developing instruments for the study of ocean chemistry and sensors to monitor ocean temperature, acidity, and other parameters in real-time. Genomic tools are opening our eyes to a world of microbial chemical factories, important in cycling carbon and nitrogen through the ecosystem, and some that cause poisonous algal blooms. Instrumentation as varied as laser spectrophotometers and seisomographs are providing insight into a part of the earth hardly explored. The challenge for the next decade is to apply our growing technological strengths to help understand and answer questions related to the oceans of the world, as well as societal issues that impact those oceans.