Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bye bye ABE

Bye bye ABE. What a sad day. I just got an email from some friends out on the Melville, doing science off the coast of Chile, looking for hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. They were using ABE - the Autonomous Benthic Explorer. ABE is an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) - meaning it's a very very clever robot, that you put over the side without a tether and it goes off and runs a program underwater, like mapping an area at a certain depth above the bottom for Xhrs, or taking photos or measurements, and when it's done it sends a signal and comes up to the surface for you to pick it up again. It was really the first of it's kind, developed in Woods Hole by dear friends, and something i've used now and then.

I just got an email saying that ABE was lost at sea yesterday. It had just started its survey at 3000m when everything went dead. They're not sure what happened, and probably never will be, but the best guess at the moment is one of it's glass flotation spheres (contained in the red floats) imploded at depth (at the great pressures that are down in the deep-sea), setting off the other spheres to also implode. Without any floatation it could never come back to the surface to be collected. They lost signal with it too, meaning when it happened, it likely took out all the electronics. A glass sphere imploding would be something like a few sticks of dynamite going off, so alas ABE is probably in many pieces at 3000m on the seafloor.

Loosing science equipment at sea is something that happens occasionally - if you throw something over the side into the bumpy ocean, especially without a rope, you have to expect to be lucky to get it back. It's certainly something that's happened to me before. But ABE was really like an old friend, though he was replaced last year by SENTRY at Woods Hole, he was dusted off for this cruise as there is so much demand for this technology right now, and there are so few of these AUVs in the world. And now ABE sits, at the bottom of the ocean by Chile. Here is part of an email I got today.

By Al Bradley, inventor of ABE

The Autonomous Benthic Explorer

Under the wide and restless sea,
Lies my grave, now let me be;
Glad did I work and now I rest,
Now by deadlines no longer stressed.
And I lay me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me;
"Here lies ABE where it longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home to the sea,
Here it rests, now let it be."

(Thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson)

1 comment:

nicola@which name? said...

that must be really upsetting for the science crew.