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Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV)

An autonomous underwater vehicle is used for long-term monitoring of the seafloor. Submersibles and ROVs allow intensive study of an area, but they can remain on station for only hours, days or weeks. A system such as an AUV can remain in an area gathering data to fill the time voids between submersible and ROV visits, providing another level of more detailed information on changes over time. An AUV, such as ABE (pictured below), can remain working on station on the sea floor for up to a year. The "robot" spends most of its time "sleeping" in a safe location, then, at pre-programmed intervals, it undocks, performs a survey with video cameras and other sensors, then re-docks and goes back to "sleep".

The ABE undersea robot was engineered to drive itself into deep water and is capable of following the contours of undersea mountains, as well as diving into channels and trenches. It collects several different kinds of data, including conductivity and water temperature, depth, video, magnetic fields, and has on board sonar for advanced sea floor mapping, and geological sampling tools.

Editor's note: In March of 2010 the Autonomous Benthic Explorer, known as "ABE", was lost as sea off the coast of Chile while investigating deep sea hydrothermal vents in the Peru-Chile Trench.

How did scientists dive to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest place in the ocean?

Autonomous Benthic Explorer being deployed

Meet ABE, which stands for Autonomous Benthic Explorer.
(Photo courtesy of Woodshole Oceanographic Institute)

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