no scientists onboard. What was the vessel up to before the pandemic hit? Can you tell us more about how they are continuing to conduct research from afar now and how that’s going? We have been extremely fortunate at Schmidt Ocean Institute. When the pandemic hit in March, our research vessel, Falkor, was already months into a year-long program to research unexplored deep sea canyons around Australia and at the Great Barrier Reef. We were at sea, with an Australian science group aboard, carrying on with our mis- sion of exploration, discovery and communication, when we happened upon what we believe to be the world’s longest animal—a siphonophore about 150 feet long, spiraling out at a depth of about 2100 feet at the end of a deeper dive in the Ningaloo Canyon off Western Australia. It was the kind of wondrous creature we find so often when we conduct ROV dives in the world’s Ocean. For more than two months this year, Falkor was reportedly the only research vessel in the world carrying on active re- search at sea. Once we were able to dock and return the sci- ence party to shore, we resumed our program at sea offering a scheduled set of now land-based scientists in lockdown in Australia the opportunity to conduct research remotely, tak- ing advantage of the vessel’s ship to shore communications, high resolution cameras and live streaming video. It’s a whole new world, and quite wonderful in its own way. Normally, 10–15 scientists would be aboard such a vessel. Is “remote research” via advanced video technology here to stay? Are there any upsides to this “new normal”? Like all things pandemic, remote research is an adaptation for what would normally occur. Since we are putting safety of the crew and guest scientists at the forefront, we’re working to build strong remote connections between our crew, land based scientists and the many robotic tools on board Falkor. There’s no substitute for in person work, but what we’ve developed during the current cruise is a pretty good and productive alternative in a crisis. And what’s important is that this critical scientific research into the deep sea is able to continue, despite the pandemic on land.
An Exclusive Interview with Wendy Schmidt
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