Ocean Networks Canada is on the cutting edge of deep ocean science, spending considerable time and energy to discover more about the ocean that was previously thought possible.

Funnily enough, the cutting edge often resembles  a very large children’s toy box. The resemblance is for a number of good reasons. Often, the engineers are making something completely new and are testing designs by trial and error. Many of these instruments are of the most recent design, and have an eye to function rather than aesthetics. These are sensitive devices that are being plunged into one of the harshest environments on the planet for hours to years, and need to be bright and blocky to make them easy to find and manipulate to deploy them effectively. Here’s a brief glimpse at some of the most sophisticated tools available to science.


Ocean Networks Canada has seismometers on the ocean floor to detect movements in the Earth’s crust, from mild movement to Earthquakes. It looks like a tube in a rock with a big battery attached, but is one of the most readily applicable tools available.

The Biobox

To collect worm samples, you need something with a lid that can withstand attacks from marauding spider crabs. To add extra weight to the lid, a clever use of hockey pucks does the trick (the orange practice ones are heavier and preferred by the engineers)

Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers

The bug eyes on an ADCP send out acoustic signals that bounce off of particles in the water column. By sending out lots of these “pings”, the instrument can measure particle movement and give an accurate display of the currents at any given time.


Deceptively small, the hydrophone itself is only the small bump under the silver cover. The rest of it is the resting tripod that is more easily handled by the ROV and the cable to hook it into the main observatory. Sound travels seven times more effectively in water than in air, so in a deep environment with no light, having an underwater microphone is one of the favorite ways to measure anything from animal movements to water flow rates.

Tempo Mini

Toybox Tempo Mini

Tempo Mini is a multi-functional sensor that can give frequent readings on dissolved oxygen content, temperature, and cameras to study the animals at the hydrothermal vents. Deployed on behalf of Ifremer (L’Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer).

CTD Rosette

A very pretty collection of sample bottles, the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth), this is a short term device that gets lowered to the bottom, and then triggered at various depths to close a bottle and take a sample for analysis back aboard the ship. A dazzling array of machines, and while the work is serious, there’s still a chance to be just as excited as kids with their toys.

By Vancouver Aquarium educator Colin Young. Photos: Ocean Networks Canada

Colin is accompanying Ocean Networks Canada on a research trip to the Pacific aboard research vessel R/V Thompson. With the help of ROVs and Ocean Network Canada’s deep water observatory, NEPTUNE, the team is gathering information on aquatic life in the ocean’s deep waters. Colin is blogging and sharing updates along the way.

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