The digital 3D model of the Niua South volcano.

Image of the month: June 2017

A Virtual Walk on the Seafloor

Our image of the month June 2017 shows a digital 3D model of the Niua South volcano at a depth of around 1,100 metres north of Tonga. In the crater are several active hydrothermal vents where hot water is emitted that can reach temperatures of 400 degrees Celsius and is rich in minerals and sulphur. The minerals deposited around them create chimney-like structures called black smokers.

Because of these minerals hydrothermal vents are generally regarded as potential sources of raw materials. In addition, they are home to unique ecosystems and teach us a great deal about processes on the ocean floor.

In April 2016 an international research team led by GEOMAR scientists has surveyed the Niua South volcano with centimeter accuracy. It was the first time a hydrothermal field had been mapped with such a high resolution.

The research vessel FALKOR operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute served as a platform for the work. To conduct the surveys, the research team used ROPOS, a Canadian-built remotely operated vehicle (ROV). ROPOS was equipped with a camera system specially developed at GEOMAR. In a complex procedure, the cameras photographed and filmed the hydrothermal vents from all angles, making it possible to take a virtual “walk” between the black smokers. “A high-performance computer on board the vessel created a digital 3D model of the entire landscape from the more than 200,000 images. This enabled us to take targeted samples of the ocean floor,” says the then-chief-scientist Tom Kwasnitschka from GEOMAR.

The digital model has been further refined and made available for additional studies. Scientists who were not on board will have the opportunity to study the Niua South field without travelling to the southwest Pacific.

During the expedition the vehicle’s dives were transmitted live via the internet. The videos are still available.

 

Links:

The Virtual Vents expedition on the website of the Ocean Institutes

Dives of ROV ROPOS on the YouTube channel of the Schmidt Ocean Institute

 

 

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The Niua South volcano is located in the Lau basin between Fiji and Samoa. Image reproduced from the GEBCO world map 2014, www.gebco.net

The Niua South volcano is located in the Lau basin between Fiji and Samoa. Image reproduced from the GEBCO world map 2014, www.gebco.net

The research vessel FALKOR. Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute

The research vessel FALKOR. Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute