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Hang Out on the Sea Floor with Live Video from a Hydrothermal Vent

Oceans cover a good portion of our planet, yet we know less about the sea floor than we do about Mars or Venus. But as technology races ahead, so do scientists, who are working fast to learn about these watery expanses. Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that seven new underwater observatories have begun transmitting data, including a live video stream from a seamount in the Pacific.

This day was a long time coming, reports Alexandra Witze in Nature. The Ocean Observatories Initiative, or OOI, has been in the works for 10 years and cost $386 million. Like so many government science projects, the OOI has had its share of holdups. “It has been stressful,” NSF ocean sciences director Richard Murray told Witze. “It’s not for the faint-hearted.”

Unlike Cousteau’s Conshelf, the new observatories are unmanned, a fact that does away with some obstacles while creating others. Still, as of today, the project’s 900 sensors are up and running, transmitting from sites off the coasts of Oregon, New York, Alaska, Greenland, Argentina, and Chile. If oceanography data floats your boat, head over to the OOI website to explore the transmissions in real time.

If you’re more the visual type, you’ll want to check out the project’s streaming video, which transmits live from a hydrothermal vent on the Axial Seamount for 14 minutes every three hours. You might think a vent gushing 500°F mineral water would be a barren and inhospitable place, but in fact the neighborhood is densely populated with sea snails, sea spiders, tube worms, palm worms, and limpets.

To tune in, just cruise over to the live feed at 2:00, 5:00, 8:00, or 11:00 ET and PT, day or night. The tube worms have no bedtime. They’ll be up. (Missed the last transmission? You can also watch previous streams.)

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AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively
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Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]

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Stefan Flöper, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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Why There's a 4-Ton Steel Ball Making Mini-Earthquakes in Germany
Stefan Flöper, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Stefan Flöper, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

An earthquake is caused by the shifting of tectonic plates, the pieces of Earth's crust that make up the surface of the planet. But humans have figured out how to create artificial earthquakes without relying on Mother Nature. YouTube personality Tom Scott recently visited the world's oldest working seismic station in Göttingen, Germany, to experience one of these mini-earthquakes in person.

Wiechert'sche Erdbebenwarte Göttingen is home to a 4-ton steel ball that can be hoisted 46 feet in the air. When dropped, the impact sends shock waves through the ground. The power to manufacture earthquakes on demand helps the team calibrate their seismographs, but there's another reason the rig was set up: It proved the theory that artificial quakes can be used to measure the earth underground.

German geophysicist Emil Wiechert got the idea a century ago. By using seismic meters to measure the reflections of waves rocking an area, he hypothesized that he would end up with an accurate sketch of what the world looked like below. The steel ball was set up in Göttingen in 1903, and it proved his theory to be correct.

More sophisticated instruments are used to measure subterranean landscapes today, but the mini-earthquake maker still functions as well now as it did 100 years ago. You can see it in action in the video below.

[h/t Tom Scott]

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