Without standardized protocols, it's very hard to achieve the scientific gold standard of reproducibility.
Whenever I begin a new research project that includes collecting new data, I will do as much as I can to document how the data was collected. Because most of my work is spent exploring deep-sea ecosystems, this means documenting the various equipment configurations/calibrations of the tools mounted to the different ROVs I've used (5 and counting!).
For the DFO 'BOOTs' towed-camera system, I was in charge of dialing in the forward-facing HD video camera lighting settings - the primary data-collection tool on the ROV. It's fair to say this was the first time 'lighting optimization' had been prioritized on BOOTs (to meet the minimum standard needed for visual surveys). So, there was, of course, various attempts at changing the lighting angles, camera and light placements during the first two dives. The goal was to optimize the data cameras but not 'be perfect' because the priorities were very much research-focused.
The camera systems on BOOTs:
ii. Forward-facing - lighting was a low priority
III. LIGHTS AND CAMERA CONFIGURATIONS – RELATIVE POSITIONING AND PRIORITY CHANGES DURING CRUISE (12 Dives, B21-B32)
B21 – First dive. Original sphere light positions were mounted front-side of HDcam
B22 – I suggested the sphere lights be moved to position behind HDcam and tilted forward. I also suggested that both SDcam strobes be repositioned beside and inline with the stillcam on either side. This was the most optimal lighting configuration used throughout cruise (Fig.1-8).
B22-25 – Rayfin + strobe were mounted rear of stillcam with dedicated strobe on rear bracket pointing forward-down (see Fig. 9)
B32 – Starboard Sphere light removed. Deepsea Sealite LED mounted onto front-top to illuminate pilotcam. (see Fig. 10)
Science means there's always room for improvement.
Dialing in the ROV technology, equipment, and configuration is an iterative process. "Success" can only be measured after a proper post-cruise assessment and an evaluation of lessons learned. Some of my most successful learning experiences came from the post-cruise consultations I had with the ROV pilots - feedback from both sides identified issues and potential solutions to improve 'data quality' for future cruises and thus paved the way for a mutually beneficial long-term collaboration!
ROV lasers - the one constant
10+ years, over a dozen expeditions, hundreds of dives...getting calibrated scaling lasers on the ROV cameras remains the bane of my existence as a deep-sea ecologist. Calibrating the lasers is one of the most important items on the scientist's dive precheck list that can also be the most irritating for the ROV team.
"...Can you twiddle the left laser a bit more? the dots look crooked...no twiddle it the OTHER way...MY right...YOUR left..."
You can often tell how experienced an ROV team is with handling needy scientists (I'm like the #1 most neediest of them all) by how they respond to 'the laser calibration request'. For those of you who want to save years of headaches - design your own 'laser calibration' solution before your expedition. Highland Tech. (ROPOS) makes some great ones inhouse - multi-axis calibration using hex screws - just mount them to your camera and Get 'er Done.
Jackson W.F. Chu
Jackson is a marine biologist, photographer, and dog-owner. This blog will try to be heavy on the photos and light on the text.