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Significant progress made on mapping Papahānaumokuākea seafloor

Uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) DriX going for a test drive.
Ocean Exploration Trust
Uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) DriX going for a test drive.

Exploration Vessel Nautilus has mapped over 8,000 square miles of the seafloor in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The world heritage site is 582,578 square miles, but less than 30% of its seafloor is mapped.

The most recent expedition focused on the southwestern area of Papahānaumokuākea near Nihoa Island.

While E/V Nautilus scanned the deep ocean, an uncrewed surface vessel named DriX mapped near shore waters — the first time the team fully deployed DriX.

"Previously, we were mostly doing research and development and testing the DriX vehicle. So we've done three or four of those projects over the last two years, to basically prove the technology to fine tune all the technical details. And this is really the first mission that we've been on that we're completely dedicated to collecting really high-quality mapping data," expedition leader Dwight Coleman explained.

The team used DriX on this particular missions for its ability to create a detailed map of shallow waters. The device floats on the surface level and uses sonars to detect the depth of ocean floors.

"We've moved beyond the sort of research and development phase, and we're going towards this operational phase of proving that the technology works and that we can run it very effectively and map large swaths of the seafloor with the technology," Coleman said.

Ocean Exploration Trust is engineering more autonomous vehicles to increase seafloor mapping efficiency.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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