The ocean floor is truly our last frontier. More is known about the outer regions of the solar system than this vast dark labyrinth humming miles beneath our sandy feet and in the deep reaches of the sea. It’s a vibrant place, not just ecologically, but geographically, as underwater mountain ranges flex and contort. Lately, the mapping of this subterranean area has been getting a boost from an unlikely source: LEDs.
Created by a squad at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, a device called the Benthic Underwater Microscope (BUM) is using LED-imaging software to noninvasively map the seafloor at a sublime level. More specifically, as the name suggests, a microscopic level. The seafloor offers some hyper-specific challenges for anyone trying to map it, most relating to instrument positioning and, in this case, LED calibration. Aquatic-based measurement instruments have always had issues with the versatile nature of the environment they are trying to capture, as well as the highly sensitive data that is necessary in an area that is not a lab.
But the scientists at Scripps in charge of the BUM used a multitude of techniques to overcome these obstacles and one of the foremost was focused LED lights. The scientists used a custom-designed set of six LED lights for short and ultra high-definition snapshots of the seafloor. This, in conjunction with microscopic lenses as well as fitted software to intake all appropriate (and rare) data, created a sophisticated piece of technology that can map the ocean floor while not disturbing it.
LEDs were critical in this process by accomplishing tasks common lighting elements could not. Enhanced imaging techniques and precisely guided angles are key in getting a reading on the ocean floor that is both consistent and deep. Andrew Mullen, a BUM administrator noted that “the system is capable of seeing features as small as single cells underwater.” This level of clarity, assisted with LED technology, is allowing the team to study coral reefs and underwater structures from as distant a landscape as the Red Sea to Maui. The discoveries found by enhanced imagery are helping our understanding of how underwater ecosystems survive and flourish.
In a time when corals are facing unprecedented challenges, anything related to improving LED calibration and performance can do to help their circumstance is more than welcomed. Future studies and research using BUM technology can improve our knowledge of the constant evolution of ocean bottoms, and. in theory, provide us with key information to protecting these natural areas. The world’s oceans are our planet’s largest biosystems, and by understanding them on a more precise microscopic level, we better understand and protect ourselves. LED lighting technology is at the forefront of this work and as LED calibration techniques improve, the hope of more accurate mapping continues to grow with it.