Photographs of the sea floor provided some of the first clues about the abundance of life in the deep ocean, lava flows on the mid-ocean ridge crest, and evidence for hydrothermal venting [e.g., Hersey, 1967; Heezen and Hollister, 1971; Ballard and Moore, 1977; Lonsdale, 1977]. These direct observations of the ocean floor are critical to understanding the physical, chemical, and biological processes occurring there.
Last year, a team of engineers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in collaboration with engineers at DeepSea Power and Light (DSPL) of San Diego, California, designed and successfully built and tested a new, digital deep-sea camera and multi-rock coring system. The system has been used during three expeditions thus far: the East Pacific Rise at 9°50′N, the Galápagos Rift at 86°–89°W and most recently to the Hess Deep in the equatorial eastern Pacific. To date, it has acquired ˜20,000 digital sea floor images and 50 volcanic glass chip samples during 20 lowerings.