LED Lights: Lighting up the deep seas

by    DiveSSI    15th November 2016
Dr Tom Kwasnitschka (left) and Dipl.-Ing. Jan Sticklus bringing light to the deep sea with their innovation. Photo: © Jan Steffen, GEOMAR
The GEOMAR’s AUV ABYSS is equipped with 24 of the new LED lights. Photo: © Emanuel Wenzlaff, GEOMAR
A shot of the seabed in the East Pacific at a depth of 4,000 metres. Thanks to the new LED technology, the scientists at GEOMAR were able to create hundreds of thousands of such images to form a huge photomosaic. Photo: © AUV "ABYSS", GEOMAR

GEOMAR team wins first prize at ideas competition

Two staff members of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel were awarded the top prize in Schleswig-Holstein’s ideas competition for Business Development and Technology Transfer Corporation of Schleswig-Holstein (WTSH) and Kiel University of Applied Sciences (FH Kiel).

They received the prize for their development of pressure-proof LED lighting, which have already proven their worth in numerous deep-sea expeditions.

Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister of Economic Affairs Reinhard Meyer officially handed over the prize money of 5,000 Euros during a ceremony at the FH Kiel on November 7th.

The deep sea covers more than half of Earth's surface. The high pressures, low temperatures and zero-light conditions make their exploration quite difficult. In addition, it is here that many natural catastrophes like earthquakes and tsunamis originate. The deep sea also serves as an important carbon storage, and therefore has an influence on the climate. What’s more, the seabed contains various mineral deposits and is also a possible site where the origins of life can be found. Hence, All these are reasons to look at them more closely.

To enable the deep seas to be explored easier, engineer Jan Sticklus and geologist Dr Tom Kwasnitschka from GEOMAR have developed a new lighting system for underwater devices that is light, pressure-resistant, corrosion-resistant and cost-effective. At the same time, it gives off a large amount of light.

This innovation has now been awarded the first prize of the Schleswig-Holstein’s ideas competition. As the sponsor of the competition, Mr Meyer congratulated the team.

This idea was originally intended to help answer fundamental questions about the seas. However, it also has many other applications for the maritime industry. This shows that top-class basic research and everyday developments in Schleswig-Holstein can go hand in hand,” he said in German.

The innovation came about because some working groups at GEOMAR wanted to film larger areas of the seafloor. However, as Dr Kwasnnschka explained, the conventional lighting systems for the deep sea were dependent on large housing due to the pressure and the fact that they require a lot of energy. If they had used such devices, only a few square metres of the seafloor would be lit. Hence, together with Sticklus, he evaluated how to use powerful and energy-efficient LED light sources on underwater robots and autonomous vehicles.

Starting with liquid-filled variants (which was later rejected), they came to the issue of the cast construction. The LEDs, together with the reflector, are embedded in a transparent synthetic resin using a special patented process. The plastic encapsulation, which is free of bubbles and has thin walls, enables the LEDs to be utilised at virtually all depths. The salt water will not reach the electronics and an adequate dissipation of heat is ensured. Using 24 of these LEDs, the two scientists built an extremely light system for GEOMAR’s AUV ABYSS (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle).

Thanks to the new lighting technology, the ABYSS was able to produce hundreds of thousands of photos of the manganese nodules in the seabed of the central Pacific Ocean in summer 2015 (as we reported here).

From this, the researchers created a high-resolution photomosaic that mapped several square kilometres of the seabed. They can use the photomosaic to examine the distribution of the nodules as well as the organisms living there,” said Dr Kwasnitschka. By doing this, the researchers can obtain more details about the ecological consequences of the degradation of manganese nodules in the deep sea.

In addition, the subject of underwater lighting also has an economic importance. This ranges from aquariums to port and offshore facilities. We are just about to expand the system to more applications,” said Sticklus. “Receiving the award is, of course, a great motivator. That’s why we are very happy about it.

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15th November 2016
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