March 19, 2007
The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology

"PICASSO" Succeeds in its First Sea Trial
~A new era of deep sea ecosystem studies~

1. Outline

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC; Mr. Yasuhiro Kato, President) has conducted the first test for a newly-developed Plankton Investigatory Collaborating Autonomous Survey System Operon "PICASSO" at Sagami bay and near sea area.

"PICASSO" is a small unmanned submersible developed for the research of ecosystem under the deep sea. It is able to be equipped with high-resolution digital camera, Visual Plankton Recorder: VPR (*1) and high-intensity light, so that the high-resolution pictures of deep-sea life forms such as Plankton are available.

In this test, Marine Snow (*2) and Plankton, which is too small to measure until now, was photographed successfully at hi-resolution in the deep-sea, and high-definition images of deep-sea life forms were filmed successfully at the first time in the world as an UROV type research vehicle(*3).

It is expected to contribute to the elucidation of marine ecosystem, by promoting development and operation of "PICCASO" and getting high-resolution images of deep-sea life forms in various ways.

2. Background of "PICCASO" development

We can see active vertical migrations of zooplankton to feed and  depths from 200~1,000m are very important to learn about the ocean carbon cycle.

However, many, such as jelly fish or other gelatinous texture plankton, are too fragile to collect by nets, so that their study is rather behind. Previous ROVs, supported by a large ship, have difficulties operating flexibly to conform to regional, seasonal and daily variations of marine biocoenosis.

For more precise research of deep-sea ecosystem at a depth of 200m~1,000, it is necessary to obtain not only biologic sampling but also high-resolution images. Therefore, a small UROV is expected to do those flexible researches.

3. Features of "PICASSO"

"PICASSO" is the acronym for "Plankton Investigatory Collaborating Autonomous Survey System Operon", a small unmanned research vehicle developed for the study of the deep-sea Plankton and Marine Snow up to a depth of 1,000m. Enable to carry one device from High-resolution digital camera(HDTV), Visual Plankton Recorder(VPR) and High-intensity Light. Its operational cost is much smaller than other research submersible vehicles since it can be carried by a small ship, and it means that more frequent research is possible now.
Currently, it is operated mainly by a thin fiber-optic to transmit images toward the support ship in real time. Now under developing function of life form recognition ability and autonomous tracking performance so that it will be able to cruise following Plankton by itself.
In the future, if several "PICASSO" could be operated at the same time, we could observe a life form from many different angles, and could operate HDTV and VPR on the same spot at the same time, that is impossible to do with one small vehicle.
Our goal is to see things differently as Picasso did. (Specification:Appendix-1)

4. Test Details

(1) Period : February 24 ~ March 4, 2007
(2) Test Area : Off Hatsushima, Sagami Bay (at a depth of 300m),
Off Fujikawa, Suruga Bay(at a depth of 600m) (Attachment-2 : Test Sea Area)
(3) Result :
1. Basic Performance Test
Ballasting-up, Adjusting center of buoyancy and gravity, High-speed optical communication test, Acoustic positioning test, Kinematic performance test, Observation performance test, Launching and pulling up test, Optical fiber operation test (Picture 1~6)
2. Photographing and filming test of plankton
Using the fish detector on Research Vessel "NATSUSHIMA", search a dense area of plankton and operate "PICASSO" toward it to take microscope pictures of Plankton by using VPR(15 pictures / sec) and filming deep-sea life forms by using High-resolution digital camera.
VPR made it possible to film and photograph successfully 2cm long euphausiid and many other life forms at 320m deep into the sea. (Picture 7) Macrouridae, galatheid crab, Nanomia bijuga siphonophore and so on were filmed by High-resolution digital camera. (Picture 8)

5. Future Plan

Keep promoting "PICASSO" in its life form recognition ability and autonomous tracking performance, observe deep-sea Plankton and Marine Snow in various ways that no other facilities are able to do.

Furthermore, since it can be carried by a small ship, it is considered that utilize "PICASSO" to the study demanding mobility, such as in South Pacific Ocean that is important area for global warming and biologic diversity study.

*1 : Visual Plankton Recorder(VPR)

Underwater microscope to capture images of minute life forms at a survey area, and also Digital Still Camera to photograph plankton alive in the water. A camera and a light source attached each tip of the 2 arms. The light source creates dark-field illumination to stand out the outlines of transparent plankton.

*2 : Marine Snow

Settling particles such as plankton's dead body or its excrement, called "Marine Snow" because it looks like snow when settling in the water. It consists mainly of carbon and the amount is huge in the entire ocean, so that it's very important for the study of global carbon cycle.

*3 : UROV type vehicle (UROV=Untethered Remotely Operated Vehicle)

It carries its own battery and communicates with its support ship by a thin fiber-optic of 1mm diameter. A thick cable is unnecessary and the captured images are sent through a fiber-optic. A thin fiber makes it easier to pursue life forms in the deep-sea since it does not get much effect of ocean current.

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology

(About "PICASSO")
Research Scientist   Hiroshi Yoshida,
Advanced Marine Technology Research Program,
Marine Technology Center (MARITEC)
(About Deep-sea Plankton Research)
Research Scientist   Dhugal Lindsay,
Marine Biology and Ecology Research Program,
Extremobiosphere Research Center(XBR)

(For Publication)
Mr. Shinji Oshima, e-mail:
Manager, Planning Department Press Office