Schmidt Ocean Institute Uses Research Vessel Falkor To Create A Virtual Version Of The Hydrothermal Vents!

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

While Virtual Reality (VR) has taken the technology domain by storm with several people using the computer-simulated reality to enhance media content such as games and movies, a team of researchers have adopted a totally different path and used the technology to delve into hydrothermal vent that's located about 1.6 kilometres under the sea.

Until now, the dangerous task of analyzing these extremely dangerous hydrothermal vents that constantly eject fiery clouds of toxic elements into the encompassing water - would have been assigned to the ROVs (remotely controlled vehicles).

The underwater drone-like gadgets are excellent, however they do not offer an all-inclusive view. All it manages to offer is a small, windowed vision that hardly helps in performing studies.

Researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, who were interested in studying the hydrothermal vents located inside the Lau Basin - an extremely dangerous, volcanic area of the ocean floor that is situated on the fault line between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates - were looking for something that would give them a much broader picture.

Chief scientist Tom Kwasnitschka, from the Helmholtz Centre compared the view offered by ROVs to walking through a city like Manhattan and only being permitted to see via the viewfinder of a camera. Kwasnitschka was talking to Maya Wei-Haas from Smithsonian Magazine.

In a bid to find a solution to this, the team decided to opt for VR, hoping to create a virtual rendition of the actual seafloor that can be explored by researchers without having to rush and without the risk of danger as well as the disturbance that tags along with submersible gadgets. Besides, a fully completed map would enable them to carry their studies back to the lab rather than spending hours at the actual vents.

That said, the task is much more complicated than it sounds because in order to create the virtual world, the team first had to take pictures of the actual region. To achieve this, the team employed the Schmidt Ocean Institute's research vessel Falkor - named after the eerie dragon dog from The Never Ending Story.

After boarding on Falkor, the team employed a state-of-the-art ROV dubbed ROPOS (Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences), a submersible device that weighs nearly 3.5 tonnes, and boasts the ability to record videos in an exceptional 4K quality that's effective even in the darkness of the Lau Basin.

The team reportedly spent three days taking pictures of an area that's nearly as big as 74 football fields. These images were later converted into a high-resolution 3D map of the seafloor which enabled researchers to identify individual blades of sea grass, which compared to the underwater photography of yore is simply outstanding, ScienceAlert reported.

In addition to offering an easier-to-navigate view of the vents, the map also helped the team to recognize exact areas to take samples from. Until now, owing to the limited visibility of the ROVs, finding good samples was quite challenging.

The team of researchers hopes their new VR method comes in handy in exploring more of the world's oceans, even if other oceanic researchers continue to use ROVs to capture the images.

Besides exploring the oceans, VR is currently being used in an array of researches too. Psychologists, earlier this year established that VR therapies might actually help people suffering from bipolar disorder or paranoia. But that's not all, NASA is currently experimenting with virtual reality to optimistically enable users on Earth to explore the landscape on Mars.

VR, without question is the future of entertainment and gaming, but it will be interesting to see how researchers use this technology in the future.

Check out the video offering a 360 degree view of the vent made by the team:

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