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How Technology is Changing The Way We See

Team StoryWeavers|September 29, 2020| 1

Aren’t those photos breathtaking?

Throughout ages, the mysteries of the oceans have baffled mankind. For centuries, oceanographers and scientists have tried to explore the deepest parts of oceans with the hope to find answers to the most propelling question, “What’s down there?” From the English naturalist Charles Darwin, who sailed around the world cataloguing and studying new species, to the Canadian film director James Cameron who dove to the Challenger Deep (the deepest known point of the Earth’s ocean floor) several such ocean explorers have time and again braved through hard conditions to advance our knowledge of the oceans that surrounds us. But so far, only about 5% of the Earth’s oceans have been explored!

But the state of ocean exploration is changing fast. Now, more than ever in human history, cutting-edge technology is helping oceanographers overcome the dark, high-pressure conditions of the ocean depths and explore it in systematic, scientific, and non-invasive ways. Do you want to know about these technologies that are making progress in exploring the deep sea? Let’s dig in.

You must have read about the chemistry behind the ‘glow in the dark’ phenomenon. Did you know that some fish can glow in the dark too? Recently, scientists found this phenomenon present in more than 180 species of fish and sharks who spend much of their time at the bottom of the seafloor! They have unique structures in their skin that enable them to glow in red, orange and green hues under blue light—a process known as biofluorescence. Researchers have used the same effect to build a camera called a ‘shark-eye camera’ to observe these fish and sharks closely. The camera can filter out certain wavelengths of light like the shark’s eye does, allowing people to see these fluorescent fishes, as these fishes would see each other!

Shark's eye camera

David Gruber, an associate professor of biology at Baruch College, dives with a ‘shark-eye’ camera. The camera, developed for a study on biofluorescence, is equipped with a special filter that simulates how light hits a shark’s eyes.

Yes, you read that right! Scripps research oceanographer Jules Jaffe designed and built a kind of satellite for the ocean called Mini-Autonomous Underwater Explorers (M-AUEs) to explore the oceans in a new way. These tiny robot M-AUEs resemble a ‘minion,’ one of the little yellow cartoon characters from the Despicable Me movie series. These robots are equipped with temperature and pressure sensors, as well as underwater microphones called ‘hydrophones’. By deploying swarms of these small floats that are buoyancy controlled, scientists can capture a three-dimensional picture of the ocean and marine life and collect important data on previously unknown aspects of ocean life.

Jules Jaffe designed Mini-Autonomous Underwater Explorers (M-AUEs) prototype.

Jules Jaffe designed Mini-Autonomous Underwater Explorers (M-AUEs) prototype.

Ever wondered what whales say to each other?? Great news! Scientists have now made that possible! Well, sort of!

People have always been intrigued by the majestic size of whales, their intelligence, and the way they use sounds to communicate with each other underwater. Unfortunately, they live in the depths of the oceans, making it difficult for humans to get data of their vocalisations. Hence, to listen to what whales are saying, scientists need to use ‘echo sounders’, that can emit sound waves that travel through the water. That’s where the Deep Ocean REMUS Echosounder, or DOR-E (REMUS stands for ‘Remote Environmental Monitoring Units’) comes in. Designed by a team of scientists and engineers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and led by marine scientist Kelly Benoit-Bird, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) works at depths up to 600 metres below sea level and can record almost a full day’s sound produced by whales.

Here’s a small video for you to enjoy!

Pretty impressive, aren’t they? Now if these technologies could dive so deep under the sea and help oceanographers explore better, imagine what wonders could they do in the field of palaeontology (the study of fossils)?

You might have pictured a palaeontologist as someone in a rocky desert, always digging up dinosaur bones or some bygone artefact, or in a lab, hunched over a piece of ancient rock. At least that’s what movies like Jurassic Park and Ross from Friends have told us. But such is not the case anymore, all thanks to the advancement in technology in this field of science. Technologies like x-ray machines, 3D printing and modelling, and CT scans have widened the exploring possibilities in this field. Let’s take a quick look at some of these technologies:

Micro-CT scanner allows inside view of even the tiniest of animals. In pic is the scanner view of the nervous system of the Burundi screeching frog, Arthroleptis schubotzi. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History scan by David Blackburn

Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History scan by David Blackburn

The same computed tomography (CT) scanner that scans through the human body revealing any clogged arteries or tumours can also offer clues about fossils based on their size, shapes, and weight. The scanner is used to identify reptiles and animals that are found in rocks without actually cracking the rocks open or damaging the fossil.

The picture on the right is of the new micro-CT scanner that allows inside view of even the tiniest of animals.  In pic is the scanner view of the nervous system of the Burundi screeching frog, Arthroleptis schubotzi.

CT scanners coupled with computer-generated 3D- prints of these fossils help reveal a lot more about them. Digital reconstruction of fossils allows scientists to manipulate specific parts of the specimen for further study, replacing missing parts with digitally constructed segments that have been flattened or otherwise distorted during the fossilisation process.

Gone are the days where finding a fossil after hours of searching and digging was considered a matter of luck. Today technology is reducing the time and effort spent on this task with satellite images. Researchers have developed a system that analyses images from satellites and tags potential areas that could contain fossils. Of course, they still have to go to the location and dig those fossils up themselves but half the challenge is already won!

Did you learn something new from this article? Do let us know in the comments below.

About the Author


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Tanaya Goswami

Books are Tanaya Goswami’s first love and cheesecakes come a close second. Talking about movies, music, calligraphy, politics, and Elon Musk will get you listed under the friends’ section of her diary. Ever since moving on from her job as an English lecturer, she spends her time at BYJU’S crafting stories filled with emotion and sprinkled with sarcasm. Outside of work, she’s either learning something new (French, most recently!) or is curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She firmly believes that discovering what you don’t know is the key to knowledge and is constantly working towards improving herself. Drop in a line at storyweavers@byjus.com if you liked her stories, have something nice to say, or if you have compelling ideas to share!

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