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Robot Slated To Explore Yellowstone Lake Within A Few Years

Have you ever wondered what’s at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake? Ever wanted to take a look?

Well, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide, in a few years, you might be able to see.

And no, the National Park Service hasn’t decided to add snorkeling and scuba diving to their roster of outdoor activities.

Rather, the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration announced its intent to create a new diving robot that will probe the depths of Yellowstone Lake in order to learn about the lake’s thermal activity and its unique microbe population. Indeed, the foundation is planning to adapt its existing ocean exploratory technology in order to explore the “Large Lakes of the World.” From JHN&G:

A source of scientific exploration for decades, what’s happening underneath the surface of Wyoming’s largest lake is a subject about which there is still much to be learned.

“I think what we’re learning is something that Ferdinand Hayden predicted back in the 1870s,” Global Foundation President Dave Lovalvo said in a phone interview from Connecticut. “There are things that we learn today that the significance may not be fully understood until years from now, when our technology advances.

“The possibilities of what exists in Yellowstone Lake are things that, right now, we don’t have nearly a full understanding of,” Lovalvo said. “I think it’s very important that we understand what’s there.”

Yellowstone’s microbes have been a draw for scientists and researchers for decades. Indeed, last November, a Berkeley-based company synthesized a new heat- and acid-resistant enzyme from microbes commonly found in Yellowstone’s many hot springs.

According to Lovalvo (who has pondered Yellowstone Lake and its mysteries since 1985 and designed, built, and operated the first Yellowstone Lake robot), the robot will measure approximately five feet long, four feet high, and four feet wide—or about the size of a washer and drier combined. Among the robot’s features will include thermal/chemical/seismic sensors, a camera equipped with an LED light, and a five-function arm. Further, according to Lovalvo, his team intends to keep the robot in Yellowstone Lake year-round:

“We don’t know much about the lake in the wintertime,” Lovalvo said, “so this will allow us to get a cross section of what’s happening over the course of a year.”

The information, some of which feeds to a boat in real time, will help Lovalvo and others map out features like the thermal vents.

“What we have to do is go around and find these,” Lovalvo said. “And these vents, more often than not, are very small.

“They’re venting out of holes that are the size of your pinky or a couple fingers put together,” he said. “These are not the big ocean vents that we’re used to; these are smaller vents. But still, some of them are fairly significant in flow, and also some of them are significant in heat.”

The thermal and seismic information gathered will complement Yellowstone caldera research that University of Utah scientist and Moose resident Bob Smith has made a career of, he said.

The Global Foundation (collaborating with Yellowstone National Park, Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institution, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Montana State University, Oregon State University, and the University of Minnesota) hopes the project will yield big findings and bring further understanding to the dynamics of Yellowstone Lake. GFOE Media and Visual Arts Coordinator Tara Smithee told the Guide she expects the robot could further Yellowstone’s management of lake trout; specifically, it could help managers find where the trout spawn.

Research is expected to start this summer, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. The Foundation hopes to cover part of the robot’s costs (estimated at $500,000) as well as the accompanying research boat (also estimated at $500,000) with a Kickstarter campaign expected to start in early March.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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