This Super-Tough Vent Camera Keeps Tabs on Undersea Aliens

One of the hottest areas of oceanic research centers around deep sea hydrothermal vents and the unique animal species that call it home. But at depths of more than a mile, donning a snorkeling mask and flippers just won't cut it. That's why Ocean Networks Canada has deployed a state-of-the-art camera to document life in the Grotto Hydrothermal Vent in real time.

Read the latest findings from Cuvelier's research at PLoS One

Dubbed the Tempo-mini Vent Camera, this custom rig was designed and constructed by France's IFREMER research institute. Part of the larger NEPTUNE Cabled Observatory It has been deployed at a depth of 2186 meters in the Grotto Hydrothermal Vent located on the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca ridge, just off the coast of British Columbia, since June of last year.

"It's a network ready surveillance HD video camera with a 10x optical zoom. The camera supports H.264. It was put into a 3000m rated titanium pressure housing. I think it has a sapphire port for scratch resistance and durability." Reece Hasanen, Scientific Instrument Manager, Marine Operations at Ocean Networks Canada wrote to Gizmodo in a recent email. "To keep the camera and lights from accumulating growth and obscuring the view during deployment, chlorine is produced via electrodes surrounding the camera and lights lenses." The team has also resorted to more mundane cleaning techniques, including sending down an ROV with a toilet bowl scrubber to combat the algae.

Additionally, the rig is outfitted with temperature and oxygen probes to monitor the water conditions at any given moment. Its powerful projector lights are only turned on once every four hours or so—and only for a half hour at a time—to avoid disturbing the deep sea denizens that it's watching.

This Super-Tough Vent Camera Keeps Tabs on Undersea Aliens

Researchers hope that through careful observation of the cyclical patterns of the vent fauna and how they interact with fluctuations of super-heated water escaping the vents, they'll be able to get a better understanding of both the localized environment and how these deep sea oases fit into the larger deep sea ecosystem. [Ocean Networks Canada]