Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


One year alone in the deep sea of the Arctic


First long-term mission of the AWI underwater robot Tramper from the research vessel Polarstern has begun

Far from any controls, an underwater robot has been working for the past few days in 2,500 metres of water on the seabed of the Arctic, after the completion of a successful test run. Researchers and engineers of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have deployed the deep-sea crawler Tramper for a year-round, fully autonomous mission for the first time.

Deep-Sea Crawler TRAMPER

Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / F. Wenzhöfer

The mobile underwater robot, which has been developed within the Helmholtz Alliance Robotic Exploration of Extreme Environments (ROBEX), will now perform weekly oxygen measurements in the seabed.

Sleeping, driving, taking pictures, measuring – the job description for the AWI Tramper sounds easy. Since this underwater robot is supposed to do all of this autonomously in the Arctic deep sea for a year at a water temperature near the freezing point, though, the engineers and scientists are a little nervous.

Therefore, the program of the Polarstern expedition PS99.2 initially included a test run, which the AWI Tramper completed successfully: It was operating on the seabed for two days at a depth of 1,500 metres. Thereby Tramper travelled a total of 123 metres and performed seven measuring cycles, proving its operability.

Accordingly, the stage was set to deploy the underwater robot on the evening of 11 July 2016 for its long mission at the AWI deep-sea observatory 'Hausgarten' at a water depth of 2,500 metres. A video-guided deployment system (the so-called launcher) brought the crawler safely to the seabed, where it is now to perform its measurements every week. It first moves 15 metres in order to reach an undisturbed area.

An image recognition camera checks the surface there: If any stones or the like are recognised, Tramper travels on for another two metres. Then, a high-resolution photo of the measurement site is taken before the measurement begins. During this process, sensors are placed in the sediment in small increments of 0.1 millimetres, in order to measure the oxygen distribution in the seabed.

"After the measurement, Tramper goes to sleep for a week, to save energy. Ultimately, it should perform more than 52 such measurement cycles – and at a temperature of minus 1.8 degrees Celsius, which places a strong demand on the batteries," says Dr Frank Wenzhöfer, biologist at the Helmholtz Max Planck Joint Research Group for Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology. The scientists want to use the Tramper measurements in order to investigate the activity of microorganisms on the seabed.

Microorganisms are particularly responsible for the degradation of organic material in the deep seabed. Bacteria convert the remains of dead algae and animals while consuming the oxygen in the seabed. Depending on how much dead algae arrive on the seabed, there will be more or less bacterial activity and, therefore, more or less oxygen consumption.

"We want to use the measurements provided by Tramper to identify the natural variation over the course of the year," says Dr Frank Wenzhöfer in explaining the scientific objectives of the mission. "Statements can also be made about how the ecosystem of the Arctic seabed responds to environmental changes. Such data about the Arctic are still incomplete," the microbiologist adds.

"For studies by deep-sea ecologists, we have developed a new multi-sensor revolver-system, which is intended to guarantee the consistent quality of the measurements," says AWI engineer Dr Johannes Lemburg about the development work that is occurring in the context of the Helmholtz Alliance ROBEX (Robotic Exploration of Extreme Environments).

"It makes it possible to measure with three sensors at the same time and to exchange them after a certain number of measurements. Such an exchange of sensors can be performed six times with each of the three revolver, allowing a total of 18 sensors to be used," says Johannes Lemburg of the sophisticated system.

Engineers and scientists are already looking forward to their next expedition in the coming year: "In the summer of 2017, we are going to return with the RV Polarstern to the AWI 'Hausgarten', and we hope to pick up the Tramper safe and sound and full of valuable data!"

Scientific background for the use of the Tramper:

Recent expeditions in the Arctic Ocean are limited to the ice-free summer months and therefore only represent a snapshot of the activity on the seabed. Continuous as well as long-term measurements are needed, however, in order to understand the carbon cycle of the oceans and to record the consequences of climate change. The measurement of oxygen consumption on the seafloor provides an estimate about the conversion of organic material there (benthic activity). The inhabitants of the deep seabed depend entirely on the supply of material from the sea surface.

Primary production at the sea surface is highly variable: It depends on the availability of nutrients, the sunlight and the sea ice coverage. It is therefore to be expected that such variability also influence the amount of the organic matter which is supplied to the deep sea.

Time series analyses performed by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research at the 'Hausgarten' Deep-Sea Observatory by means of sediment trap measurements confirmed such a variable export of material from the surface to the deep sea. Until recently, though, direct measurements of related benthic activity could only be conducted during individual ship expeditions, and continuous measurements for the Arctic have not been available.

Temporal high-resolution measurements that record the variations in benthic activity are very important to model the carbon cycle in the Arctic and to document long-term influences. This input is essential to be able to evaluate the consequences of climate change and the long-term effects on the Arctic seabed.

Tramper now makes it possible to perform weekly measurements of the benthic oxygen consumption and to correlate the data with the incoming organic material. Scientists expect higher consumption rates in periods of increased surface primary production and export of material, i.e., higher rates in summer and lower rates in winter. Especially interesting is the influence of the ice coverage in this Arctic sea area, the transition from the winter to the summer phase and how the activity at the sea floor is associated with the surface activity from a temporal perspective.

Notes for Editors:

Printable photographs as well as a video of the Tramper can be found in the online version of this press release at:

A notification from the first test of the Tramper in warmer climates can be found here:

Another exciting report from the Polarstern expedition can be found here:

You can find more information on the Helmholtz Alliance ROBEX here:

Please contact Dr Frank Wenzhöfer (tel.: +49(0)471 4831-2182; e-mail: frank.wenzhoefer(at) and Dr Johannes Lemburg (tel.: +49(0)471 4831-2524; e-mail: johannes.lemburg(at) and, in the press office, Dr Folke Mehrtens (tel.: +49(0)471 4831-2007; e-mail: Folke.Mehrtens(at)

The Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and oceans of the high and mid-latitudes. It coordinates polar research in Germany and provides major infrastructure to the international scientific community, such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and stations in the Arctic and Antarctica. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Ralf Röchert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it
25.10.2016 | University of California - Santa Cruz

nachricht Deep down fracking wells, microbial communities thrive
25.10.2016 | DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Deep down fracking wells, microbial communities thrive

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>