Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences have created a new device that can capture and transport deep-sea creatures to the ocean‘s surface without harming them, allowing scientists to better study the deep sea and potentially discover new species. The Submersible Chamber for Ascending Specimens, or SubCAS, works by first capturing wildlife within a small collecting jar. Once the SubCAS and its diver have ascended to approximately 200 feet below the surface, the jar is then moved into a larger chamber, which is sealed after an air bubble is also inserted. This air bubble expands as the pressure drops, which keeps the pressure within the jar at a constant level consistent with that experienced in the deep-sea creatures’ habitats.
Until recently, technological challenges limited our knowledge of the mesophotic, or “middle light,” zone. The mesophotic ecosystems begin to exist roughly at the depth beyond which traditional diving technology ceased to effectively protect divers. On the other hand, this zone is also too shallow to justify the use of technology typically used for deep sea exploration. In the past decade, diving technology has improved, and with it our understanding of this unique part of the ocean.
“When we started doing these deep dives, seeing whole ecosystems nobody’s ever seen… I wanted to bring those to the public floor,” Senior Director of the California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium and co-inventor of the SubCAS Bart Shepherd told Earther. The team has successfully brought 89 percent of captured mesophotic animals to the surface, while 143 of these creatures have been transported from locations all over the world to the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, where many of them are on display in the Twilight Zone: Deep Reefs Revealed exhibit. “We’re showing a million-plus people a year these things nobody else will have the opportunity to see, and [using] that as a way to have a [conversation] about coral reef decline,” said Shepherd. The team is currently gearing up for a 2019 mesophotic expedition in the Indian Ocean. “There’s really nobody that’s done deep exploration diving on reefs in the Indian Ocean,” said Shepard. “We think we’re gonna find a ton of new species.”
Images via California Academy of Sciences