What lurks beneath Yellowstone Lake? This robot sub will find out

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE) has an admirable mission — it wants to develop robotic technology that’ll help explore the world’s deepest oceans and lakes. The group is using a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for its latest project which will focus on relatively unexplored depths of Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone was selected by the team because of its historical and scientific significance. The area became a national park more than 100 years ago, and while its woods have been explored, the depths of the park’s flagship lake mostly remain a mystery. Researchers hope to make some exciting discoveries as similar lakes around the world house a diverse community of thermophilic bacteria, hydrothermal vent plants, and other heat-loving organisms that have proven to be of interest to science and medicine.

Yellowstone Park officials confirm that most (99 percent) of the bacterial species living in the park have not been identified due to a lack of money and tools to complete that task. GFOE is stepping in to help, using its knowledge and experience to fill that gap. For the first time ever, the GFOE is turning to Kickstarter, relying on the public to help fund the building and deployment of a robot designed to identify and study these yet-to-be-discovered organisms.

GFOE is led by Dave Lovalvo, who has previous experience with Yellowstone Lake. In 1985, Lovalvo was the first to use a robot to study hydrothermal activity in the lake. Lovalvo played a pivotal role in the research, designing the robotic submarine, coding its software and operating the vessel during the study. Now he is ready to go back again and explore the depths of the lake using cutting edge technology that was not available 30 years ago.

For this upcoming study, Lovalvo and GFOE have assembled a team of engineers who have worked together on more than 150 ROV dives as part of their partnership with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. During these dives, the team has gathered important deep oceanic data from depths of as much as 3.7 miles.

GFOE is working closely with Yellowstone National Park and Yellowstone Association on this project. It also has technical and scientific support from high-profile research groups such as Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, University of Minnesota, and Montana State University. While GFOE has the scientific aspect of the project covered, it still needs funding to complete the mission. The group has a private donor willing to match pledged funds from the public, and has turned to Kickstarter to raise the $100,000 in public funds needed to reach the $200,000 required for the project. Once funding is secured, the team hopes to complete the Yellowstone dive in June 2017. Check out their Kickstarter campaign.

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