Canada’s national facility for deep-sea research, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) ROPOS, has made it possible for ocean scientists to conduct research on the ecology of hydrothermal vents, sponge reefs and cold-water corals, and the geochemistry and economic potential of sulphide mineral and gas hydrate deposits, and to begin pioneering work on cabled deep-sea observatories. The Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility (CSSF) and university partners have operated ROPOS since 1996.
ROPOS has operated in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans on 16 different support vessels from four countries in support of 85 science and engineering trips, 741 dives and 12,614 scientist-dives. Since 1996, Canadians have occupied 648 berths on ROPOS cruises in the North Atlantic and North Pacific and as far afield as the Mariana and South Tonga volcanic arcs, usually in collaboration with international scientific and governmental partners. Scientific yield from ROPOS-related work is high with over 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications, including feature articles. This statistic is growing steadily as ROPOS continues to facilitate groundbreaking discoveries.
Some recent highlights include:
- Nature publication and inclusion in NSERC’s 2006 Inaugural Top 50 discoveries list for documentation of an underwater volcanic eruption
- Discovery and sampling of active gas venting at deep-sea hydrate mounds
- One of few records worldwide of co-occurring or ‘hybrid’ photosynthetic and chemosymbiotic ecosystems
- In situ observation and sampling of deep-water corals off Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts
- Successful installation of the first cabled seafloor observatory in Canada (VENUS)
- Search and recovery of data from the sunken BC Ferry Queen of the North
ROPOS is known as one of the world’s most capable scientific submersibles for its efficiency, the ability and professionalism of its operators and its suitability for multidisciplinary science. This has resulted in its use by a wide range of foreign organizations, benefiting Canadians by providing access to otherwise inaccessible major support vessels, by contributing to the cost of upgrades and capital equipment and by increasing the base for sharing fixed costs. Recent upgrades, funded largely by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the British Columbia Knowledge and Development Fund (BCKDF), have resulted in a virtually new ROV with greatly expanded capabilities. Marine scientists are already benefiting from these improvements, which now support: 1) deployment on a wider range of support vessels, 2) meter-scale subsea navigational precision, 3) larger instrument and cargo payloads, 4) increasingly complex manipulative capability on the seafloor, and 5) real-time participation of shore-based scientists and audiences in ROPOS dives.