Explore the Deep Sea

Tools & Techniques

Can be used to photograph the seafloor thousands of meters below the ocean's surface.


TowCam being lowered over the side of the ship. Image courtesy of K. Kusek.

TowCam is an amazing piece of scientific equipment. As its name suggests, it is essentially a camera that is towed behind the ship, photographing the seafloor. But this simple description belies its sophisticated nature: it can take rock and water samples as well as photographs. And the skills needed to operate it are pretty sophisticated too. A game—like joystick and multiple computer screens are involved, so experiencing a TowCam run is a bit like being inside an action-packed video game.

TowCam vital statistics

Chief scientist Charlie Langmuir and colleague inspect TowCam on deck. Image courtesy of K. Kusek.

TowCam movies bring seafloor to life

Sea stars. Image courtesy C. Fisher

When photos from TowCam are viewed rapidly in sequence, it's a bit like watching a movie. You might see river-like lava flows, or sediment-laden lava spots making it look like the seafloor needs a good vacuum sweep, or yellowish splotches of sulfide coloring areas of vent fluid flow. Some pictures are of animals: a white anemone sitting by itself on the edge of a cliff face; the gangly arms of a soft coral whipping in the current and siphoning what it needs to live; a scattering of white tubeworms; even brilliant orange anemones that make you wonder why they are so colorful in the permanent darkness of the deep sea.