Oceanomics and Sensorbots to Understand the Oceans
Deirdre R. Meldrum, Ph.D.
Arizona State University
Professor of Electrical Engineering
Director of the Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation in the Biodesign Institute
Imagine a scenario where a swarm of miniature robotic fish is autonomously foraging in an underwater hydrothermal vent to look for trace amounts of rare and exotic chemical or biological oddities. These robots, or “Sensorbots,” are equipped with thousands of chemical sensors on their skin to measure oxidation/reduction, pH, a wide variety of ions, dissolved gases, pollutants, and other chemicals and biomolecules. Within the robotic fish are miniature instruments that analyze nucleic acids and functional proteins of marine microbes, while miniature microscopes probe their cellular activities. To study the immense oceans, we would deploy thousands of Sensorbots to record physical, chemical, and biological parameters, and use informatics to decipher and catalog the copious data as it changes over time. This global task requires not only advanced technologies, but also enormous resources.
The ocean science community can leverage developments from other fields, such as emerging sensors and biomedical analyses methods to realize this vision of Sensorbots for discovery, monitoring, and analyses of ocean systems. When wide-spread Sensorbot networks become a reality, we can virtually bring the dynamic ocean information, from mesoscale to microscale, to our desktops. It will bring to scientists, educators and students, policy makers, and eventually the general public, a fundamental shift in understanding the oceans and our future on earth.