Out of This World – The Sunfish and Deep-Sea Exploration - Apollo Mapping
Posted on September 12th, 2023

Out of This World – The Sunfish and Deep-Sea Exploration

The deep sea has always fascinated humanity with its enigmatic and uncharted depths. It’s remarkable that oceans covers nearly 71% of Earth’s surface, and only 5% of it has been explored. The deep sea is often considered the Earth’s final frontier and remains one of the least understood ecosystems on the planet. The unplumbed depths are home to an array of incredible potential resources and knowledge, if only we can access them. Luckily, new technological developments allow us to learn more about the secrets of the ocean.

Exploring underwater caves opens new possibilities for delving into our past. (Credit: Francisco Davids)

Meet the SUNFISH, a cutting-edge, autonomous underwater vehicle designed for deep sea exploration. SUNFISH was designed by Stone Aerospace in collaboration with NASA to explore the Jovian moon Europa. The robot can navigate terrain inaccessible to humans due to tight spaces, cold waters and dangerous circumstances using artificial intelligence (AI) and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) to autonomously explore undersea environments.

The SUNFISH was recently deployed for the Our Submerged Past expedition, a mission based around the supposition that humans have made homes in North America for 17,000 years. Some of the land the First Peoples originally inhabited is now underwater, but evidence of their presence is preserved in submerged caves and shelters. Using the SUNFISH, the Our Submerged Past team located, explored, mapped and attained sediment samples from these caves. The mission was completed in two expeditions. The first, in May through June 2022, used side-scan sonar to locate underwater anomalies and caves that could have been accessible to ancient peoples. During the second part of the expedition, which took place between May and June of 2023, the SUNFISH collected sediment samples from the previously identified caves and rock shelters.

The SUNFISH is pivotal to advancing our ability to explore and understand the deep sea. Continuing to unveil the secrets of our oceans have far-reaching implications, from improving our knowledge of marine biodiversity to better understanding the origins of humankind. The depths of the ocean continue to beckon us, inviting us to uncover its unparalleled beauty and uncover its secrets, one dive at a time.

To check out super cool images and videos from the Our Submerged Past expedition, click here.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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