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Ocean science with diving honey bear and bathythermo duck

Image: Bathythermograph deployed on the Research Vessel Westward underway. It recorded temperature with depth.

Off the coast of British Columbia at the large table in the galley of Robert Ballard’s research vessel Nautilus, physicist Don Blair, a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab, held a three by one-inch nubby computer board with wires dangling.  Kyle Neumann, UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. marine science student, talked of the great expenses of finding the boundary between two water bodies in the layer cake of ocean below. CDT instruments were large, expensive and required a big hydrowinch to lower into the sea.  Don hefted in his palm a miniature computerized circuit board that could also measure temperature with depth, if protected from the ocean elements of seawater and pressure.

On the galley table was spied a large squeezable honey bear nearly empty of honey.  Honey in bear was quickly consumed and Don’s apparatus was found to fit inside the bear.  They filled it with mineral oil and secured a latex glove over the top to expand and shrink with changing water pressure.  This bear had changed its point from squirting condiment to deep diving researcher.

On a remotely operated submersible drone, the bear was affixed to an outside shelf facing into the vessel.  Don had added an LED light to the circuit board inside the bear to indicate it was recording. At a great depth, he asked if the lights could be turned off to check on bear.  In the inky blackness one red light burned bright in the eye of honey bear.  Bear successfully measured temperature with depth, while keeping its glove on.

Not bathythermo ducks, eiders in Boston Harbor in January.

Don Blair is working with the Ocean River Institute on a slightly bigger instrument that will also indicate salinity and density by measuring conductivity.  Honey bear will be replaced by larger old decoy ducks ingesting Don’s temperature and conductivity with depth devises.  Plans are to dive bathythermo ducks in Boston Harbor and out in the NE Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument when the weather improves.