MBARI Makes Digital Deep-Sea Guide Public, Providing Unprecedented Access to Ocean Images
By M. DANIEL DECILLIS
| April 5, 2016
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) has been recording underwater video with remotely
operated vehicles for over 25 years. Its ever-growing library of underwater footage, which
now exceeds 24,000 hours, has long been a tremendous resource for researchers. The challenge, however,
has always been to comb through the vast data set for relevant images. Thanks to a specially developed
software package, this resource is now much more accessible to researchers and the public alike.
"We collect a tremendous amount of information," said Judith Connor, MBARI Director of Information and Technology Dissemination.
"Being able to apply digital image processing to our video footage, along with the collective input and expertise of
researchers at MBARI and at other institutions worldwide, has really allowed us to make this information accessible
in a way that hasn't been done before."
The MBARI Deep-Sea Guide allows users to search for specific
deep-sea animals (by their common or Latin names), groups or animals, and geologic features. The results can include
not only images and descriptions, but range information, depths, and times of year when the animals or features
"It's a way of pulling together a lot of relevant information in a very accessible interface," said Connor. "This
provides more information to researchers and is an unprecedented educational resource."
It's all made possible through the Video
Annotation and Reference System (VARS), a software interface and database system that provides tools
for describing, cataloging, retrieving and viewing the visual, descriptive, and quantitative data
associated with MBARI's deep-sea video archives.
MBARI is developing automated image recognition to help sift through the underwater video and identify objects successfully tracked
over multiple video frames. This automated video 'triage' is followed up by human analysis and classification, which
are added to the database according to the VARS protocols.
"It's the collective expertise of the research community that enhances the value of this resource tremendously," said
Connor. "The image detection algorithms are becoming more advanced every year, but what these are primarily allowing us to
do is focus the collective expertise of our research community on areas of interest. The Deep-Sea Guide is very much a
Until late 2015, the Guide was available only to researchers. MBARI hopes that its increased accessibility will make it
into a valuable resource for educators as well. Although the Deep-Sea Guide library is primarily focused on the Monterey Bay area, MBARI actively collaborates with
marine research institutions around the globe, particularly at the University of Hawaii.
"The Guide is a living system which is continually being refined, expanded, and improved," said Connor. "We hope that researchers in California and elsewhere will help
VARS continue to evolve into a truly global resource."