Hang Out on the Sea Floor with Live Video from a Hydrothermal Vent

NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF; Dive R1730; V14
NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF; Dive R1730; V14 / NSF-OOI/UW/CSSF; Dive R1730; V14

Oceans cover a good portion of our planet, yet we know less about the sea floor than we do about Mars or Venus. But as technology races ahead, so do scientists, who are working fast to learn about these watery expanses. Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that seven new underwater observatories have begun transmitting data, including a live video stream from a seamount in the Pacific.

This day was a long time coming, reports Alexandra Witze in Nature. The Ocean Observatories Initiative, or OOI, has been in the works for 10 years and cost $386 million. Like so many government science projects, the OOI has had its share of holdups. “It has been stressful,” NSF ocean sciences director Richard Murray told Witze. “It’s not for the faint-hearted.”

Unlike Cousteau’s Conshelf, the new observatories are unmanned, a fact that does away with some obstacles while creating others. Still, as of today, the project’s 900 sensors are up and running, transmitting from sites off the coasts of Oregon, New York, Alaska, Greenland, Argentina, and Chile. If oceanography data floats your boat, head over to the OOI website to explore the transmissions in real time.

If you’re more the visual type, you’ll want to check out the project’s streaming video, which transmits live from a hydrothermal vent on the Axial Seamount for 14 minutes every three hours. You might think a vent gushing 500°F mineral water would be a barren and inhospitable place, but in fact the neighborhood is densely populated with sea snails, sea spiders, tube worms, palm worms, and limpets.

To tune in, just cruise over to the live feed at 2:00, 5:00, 8:00, or 11:00 ET and PT, day or night. The tube worms have no bedtime. They’ll be up. (Missed the last transmission? You can also watch previous streams.)