July 8, 2008
Feature Story

Deep-Sea Discoveries on Expedition Using ASTEP AUVs


The June 26 issue of Nature features a report on the results of underwater research conducted with a pair of NASA Astrobiology-sponsored robotic explorers.

Two autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), called Jaguar and Puma, funded by the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program, were deployed on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI’s) Arctic Gakkel Vents Expedition (AGAVE). The AGAVE team traveled to the Arctic Ocean last summer to study the Gakkel Ridge, a largely unexplored area of the mid-ocean ridge system.

Paul Oberlander (c) WHOI

Members of the AGAVE team report in Nature that they found evidence of violent volcanic eruptions along the Gakkel Ridge, at depths of up to 2.5 miles (about 4,000 meters). From July 15-31, 2007, the expedition “surveyed the presumed eruption site” using suite of hardware including a multi-beam echo sounder, a sub-ice camera and sampling platform (CAMPER), and the Jaguar and Puma AUVs.

ASTEP sponsored the development of Jaguar and Puma as precursors to the sorts of AUVs that will be needed to explore deep, ice-covered oceans on other planetary bodies, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa.

In addition to the NASA Astrobiology Program, sponsors of the AGAVE expedition include the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs; the NSF Division of Ocean Sciences; the Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems, an NSF Engineering Research Center; and the WHOI Deep Ocean Exploration Institute.

For detailed information about the AGAVE expedition, see WHOI’s Polar Discovery and Dive and Discover web sites.