Drawing the Ocean Closer: How Deep-Ocean Dropcams and an Art-Integrated Exploration Approach Provide Windows and Mirrors into the Deep Sea

Jonatha Giddens1, Alan Turchik1, Alan Friedlander2, Brad Henning1, Whitney Goodell1, Benjamin Woodward3, Leigh Marsh4, Brian Tate5, Eric Berkenpas6, Charles Shepard6 and Jessica Elfadl1, (1)National Geographic Society, Exploration Technology Lab, Washington, DC, United States, (2)National Geographic Society, Pristine Seas, United States, (3)CVision AI, Medford, United States, (4)University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom, (5)CVision AI, United States, (6)Second Star Robotics, United States
The Deep-ocean Dropcam is a lightweight and low-cost autonomous benthic lander camera system developed by National Geographic’s Exploration Technology Lab to explore the deep-sea. Since 2009, Deep-ocean Dropcams have been deployed over 500 times throughout the world’s oceans with over 1,000 hours of deep-sea footage collected. Because of its efficient design, the Dropcam can be deployed from nearly any vessel, opening the possibility to move away from the expensive and exclusive ocean research model, to empower more people to explore the deep-sea and enable research at scale. A robust data collection platform, the camera system provides a window into the deep at 4K resolution. With the images collected, we are generating biodiversity indices and characterizing deep marine biogeography to help inform conservation planning. We are modeling relationships between biodiversity and environmental variables to advance our understanding of how these systems are interconnected, and how human activities impact the ocean. To further open access to deep-sea exploration and empower a global research community, our team is developing tools to efficiently process and analyze the data, and an art-integrated observation methodology to connect with ocean places and share insights through storytelling. On a 2019 expedition to the Seychelles, a field journaling technique was piloted and is currently being developed into a training course in field observation. In the tradition of the early naturalist’s journals and the illustrations of pioneering deep-sea explorers, this course will guide explorers in an art-integrated approach, with communication of insights gained through pictures and story. The exploration tools provide a window into the deep, and the art-integrated training kit provide a mirror where citizens can see themselves as an explorer to help galvanize a global culture of deep-sea exploration.