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Into the deep

MI faculty and students take part in ocean exploration history

Remotely operated vehicle Hercules takes a geological sample.

By Stephanie Barrett

This past summer, Wes Smith and Scott Follett from the Marine Institute's (MI) School of Ocean Technology (SOT) had the opportunity to take part in ocean exploration history on board the University of Rhode Island Institute for Exploration's (IFE) vessel, the E/V Nautilus.

Under the direction of Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic, IFE develops advanced deep-sea vehicle systems to conduct this research, as well as educate students and the general public.

This year's expedition began in the Black Sea in July and will finish in November off the coast of Israel. Throughout the trip, Nautilus expedition scientists will map the sea floor, study underwater volcanoes, investigate unusual life forms and explore shipwrecks.

Mr. Smith, an instructor with MI's School of Ocean Technology, boarded the vessel in Bodrum, Turkey, and was given the job of Argus pilot.

Argus is a tow sled vehicle, which supports the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules' mission. It is equipped with high definition cameras and large lights to illuminate the area, which allow the scientists to gain a better sense of the surrounding environment and view Hercules at work.

Acting as Argus pilot, Mr. Smith had the opportunity to explore the volcanoes Kolombo and Santorini in the Aegean Sea.

"One of my most memorable moments onboard was when we were exploring the Santorini caldera in search of hydrothermal activity," said Mr. Smith. "When we came up over the side of the dome of the crater and into the ambient light, what we saw was truly mind-blowing. We turned off the big lights on Argus since the ambient light allowed us to see so much more than you normally would and the visual perspective was astounding."

Mr. Follett, who just completed the remotely operated vehicle program at the Marine Institute, was tasked with designing a mount to house a rock hammer tool for the arm of Hercules. The hammer would then be used to chip rock samples and bring them to the surface for analysis.

While onboard the vessel, he also acted as Argus pilot.

"This is a great opportunity for Marine Institute students and faculty to work alongside some of the foremost underwater explorers of our time," said Dwight Howse, head of MI's School of Ocean Technology. "The relationships that we have developed with the folks at the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center, Immersion Learning, and the Institute for Exploration now enable us to participate in new discoveries that are taking place in the oceans around the world."

And these new discoveries can also be viewed 24 hours per day, seven days a week thanks to a satellite dish on the ship that transmits live video and other data from the expedition. Viewers can hear what Dr. Ballard and his team are saying and view what they are seeing in real time on the Nautilus live website (

Mr. Howse goes on to say that Paul Brett, instructor with SOT, will also be joining the expedition in late October.

"I received a very positive email from Brennan Philips, operations manager for IFE onboard the Nautilus, stating they were very impressed with both Scott and Wes and the contributions they were making to the expedition and they were looking forward to welcoming Paul later in the fall. This is a real testament to how our local expertise is contributing to the world oceans industries and how together we are building on our respective capabilities and furthering our opportunities."