Tokyo University has engaged Kaiyo Engineering, a specialist marine science company, to undertake seabed research using two Saab Seaeye robotic systems, the Leopard and the Falcon, to explore the feasibility of mining the gold, cobalt and the copper-rich manganese crust, offshore Japan.
Alongside mineral exploration is research into protecting the ecosystems around extraction sites. The Leopard and the Falcon will be used to examine the biodiversity surrounding the hydrothermal vent activity in order that methods to protect the inter-connecting ecosystems at and above target sites can be developed.
Other tasks undertaken by Kaiyo Engineering will further exploit the advanced capabilities of the Leopard and Falcon.
One such task is to enhance the tsunami early warning seismographic monitoring system on the sea floor and install 45 kilometres of new sensors and transponders.
These ships first survey the oceans using sonar to identify hydrothermal vent activity and then send down the Leopard, supported by the Falcon, to survey, then film and gather samples.
Kaiyo chose the 3000 metre rated Leopard for the project because they say, its advanced technology offers “a lot of potential” for achieving the wide range of tasks to be undertaken now and in the future.
Kaiyo’s Leopard was fitted with an oversize skid, specially designed by Saab Seaeye engineers to accommodate the range of scientific equipment needed for the missions planned.
Other enhancements to the Leopard system included an extra tilt platform for an additional camera and extra fibre muxes and power supplies for multibeam systems.
The complete Leopard package came with a Seaeye TMS, Safe Area A-frame Launch and Recovery System (LARS) and a purpose built safe area container with control cabin.
The Falcon’s main roles are to monitor anchorage security, examine corals and monitor the metal hydrate activity. It will also be used for monitoring fish behaviour at eelgrass beds, which are an important habitat for nurturing fish stocks.
After completing this current project for evaluating the feasibility of extracting metals from around hydrothermal vents, Kaiyo is planning to undertake further sea bottom mapping and deploy sensors to establish the thickness of the of the cobalt-rich reef crust.
Helping achieve and support the successful acquisition of the two robotic systems is Saab Seaeye’s distributor in Japan, Marimex Japan K.K.