David Lang

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenExplorer

127 observations in 24 expeditions


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Recent Observations

We made a trip many years ago. It was the first expedition on OpenExplorer, in fact: https://openexplorer.com/expedition/seaofcortez Our goal was to follow the steps of John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, who had made a similar trip almost 75 years earlier. Their trip was an expedition of curiosity, a group of friends sampling and collecting species down the coast of and up through the Gulf of California. The results of the trip became, in addition to the scientific work, a book: The Log from the Sea of Cortez. The book is one of my favorites. Our first trip was something different. We wanted to test out the emerging citizen science tools that we and our friends had built. It wasn't a serious scientific expedition. This trip has similar goals: we want to show just how far these tools have come in the past few years. We'll go back with the team, including Walt, Eric and Mac. "For many little errors like this, we have concluded that all collecting trips to fairly unknown regions should be made twice; once to make mistakes and once to correct them." - John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Driving the OpenROV Trident in the estuary. Visibility wasn't so good, and lots of new pilots made this more of an educational experience than an actual scientific survey. Glad to have so many new pilots though!

Preparing the Trident for tomorrow's event. Everything looking good for going deep.

It's a race to confirm the new theory! "Beyond Grand Marais, the Brule River splits at the Devil’s Kettle waterfall. Half of it tumbles down and continues on its way. The rest pours into a dark deep hole in the hill ... and disappears. For years, people have tried to figure out where that water goes. Logs and Ping-Pong balls tossed into the churning cauldron seemed to simply vanish, fueling speculation that the lost branch of the river might flow for miles underground, carrying bobbing debris down to the distant shores of Lake Superior or off to some underground cavern. Now, finally, a researcher from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) thinks he’s cracked the riddle of Devil’s Kettle. “It’s a beautiful optical illusion,” said DNR mapping hydrologist Jeff Green, who first marveled at the wandering waterway during a family trip to Judge C.R. Magney State Park years ago. The disappearing half of the river, it turns out, reappears pretty quickly downstream." http://www.startribune.com/scientists-think-they-ve-solved-the-mystery-of-devil-s-kettle-falls/414996694/

Getting the sonar ready near Alcatraz.

There has been great coverage of the Return to the SS Tahoe expedition in the press. The first and biggest was a piece by John Markoff in the NYT: nyti.ms/29V96Ja Another piece, specific to the implications of small, affordable and powerful new ROVs on marine archaeology was on Capital Public Radio: capradio.org/76574 Photo from Manyu Belani

In addition to the live feed from the OpenROV, I'm going to be streaming behind-the-scenes interviews to Facebook Live (you can follow or friend me there: facebook.com/davidtlang ) Here's the video from the preparation going on in the OpenROV lab: facebook.com/DavidTLang/videos/10105345591014637

Arrived. The team is getting set up. Boats are in the water. Command center in the cabin being rigged and wired. Nervous excitement all around. I did a Facebook Live video tour of the place. You can watch it here: facebook.com/DavidTLang/videos/10105349319113497/?permPage=1 Also: dinner is now served. More soon!

"What happened with this expedition?" A number of people have asked me that recently. Quick answer: we missed the weather window last year. But we're still going! The goal now is to take one of the new OpenROV Tridents later this fall. It will be more robust and better able to deal with the conditions. Also, much easier to hike with.

For the most recent dive on the SS Tahoe, check out the Return to the SS Tahoe expedition: openexplorer.com/expedition/returntothesstahoe

Day 2 was filled with tests. We pushed the limits with the new Trident, including flying the 2.8 and Trident together, filming each other. We didn't livestream any of these dives, but will post the videos as soon as we get home and have time to process.

Getting started on Day 2. We achieved most of our milestones for exploring the SS Tahoe yesterday. You can watch the video of the last dive here: twitch.tv/openrov/v/71186293 Our plan today is to shift the focus to testing new equipment and software. Most important: we're going to be doing a lot of diving with Trident. Also, we have a few other anomalies that showed up on the sonar, so we'll check those out too. (Attached photo is an overlay of the boat and ROV path around the wreck yesterday.)

In 1940, the 50m long "Steamer Tahoe" was skuttled in Glenbrook Bay on the east side of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. The owners of the steamship intended for it to sink in shallow enough water for tourists to see it from a glass-bottom boat, but the ship was sunk too far from shore and ended landing on a slope and sliding do a depth between 110 and 150m. Because of its great depth in a high-altitude lake, very few divers have ever been able to see the sunken ship, and no footage has been recorded of the ships interior. Our first attempt to find the wreck is documented here: openexplorer.com/expedition/shipwrecktahoe More information on the wreck is on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Tahoe Now, we're going back. And this time we're bringing the new OpenROV Trident, as well as a number of custom ROVs to attempt to better document the wreck.

Eric Stackpole always tells me: "If the job is Dirty, Dangerous, Dull or Distant, then it's better to send a robot." This expedition, searching for an answer to the mystery of Devil's Kettle Falls, is of the dangerous - and maybe just flat out impossible - variety. The picture and video explain more than I could write. Basically, no one knows where the water is going on the second waterfall. Not hikers. Not geologists. No one has been able to figure this out. We're going to send in an OpenROV. Because it's back-packable (and relatively inexpensive), we're going to hike in and drop the robot down the second hole. We'll see how far we can explore and where all of this water is going. You can read more about it here: bit.ly/1M0U8OE The plan is to do this in November, but is very weather dependent. It may have to wait until next summer. Also, it's pending approval from the authorities.

Getting ready to head out on the water. Planning to explore the MPA outside the spill area. Photo of the Pirate Lab

Needed: Atlas Scientific Dissolved Oxygen Probe Paul indicated the crew needs an DO Probe. If you have one we can use and you're in the Southern California area, please let us know. Or, if you're interested in donating one (or the $$ to buy one) that'd be great, too! Details: atlas-scientific.com/productpages/kits/dokit.html

We're headed down to Santa Barbara to examine the effects of the oil spill on Refugio State Beach. We'll be using new tools to get different perspectives on the damage, as well as prototyping and documenting methods for citizen scientists to respond to environmental crisis in the future. We'll be working with Paul Spaur, who runs the AARR-Pirate Lab at CSU Channel Islands. Paul and his students have extensive experience with the area as well as with the technology. Our goal is to live stream footage from beneath the surface to get a sense for how the oil spill is affecting the intertidal areas.

Tune in LIVE to the OpenROV dive in Lake Tahoe. Going for a new record - 300 meters deep! openrov-liveview.herokuapp.com/channels/1 Current depth 220 meters

The first streamed dive of the weekend. Here's the liveview: openrov-liveview.herokuapp.com/channels/4

Jaime with his impressive custom ROV collection.

Dominik is planning to test the gripper arm that Hub sent us from Switzerland.

Andrew, Dominik, Joakim, J.R

Left to right: Darcy - In from Vancouver, pictured here with his heavily modified OpenROV (if you can even call it that anymore). He's taken this 230 m deep. Looking to push the record this weekend. Eric Stackpole - co-founder of OpenROV Erika Bergman - submarine pilot, Nat Geo explorer, lead explorer OpenExplorer

Last year a few enthusiastic OpenROV developers and explorers gathered at a cabin on the shores of Lake Tahoe to Search for the Wreck of the SS Tahoe. Bringing a mighty group of thinkers together on a collaborative expedition was one of the highlights of the year. So much of OpenROV and now OpenExplorer's improvement is dependent on community drive for solid and functional field tools. These gatherings are integral to staying true to our values as a company - to conduct and showcase high quality citizen exploration. Bios and experiments to follow!

Here's a video from our day on the SF Bay with the Starfish sonar.

Driving the ROV. Video to follow tonight. No luck yet. Poke and hope. Strong current.

Getting Walt's OpenROV ready for a dive.

Promising sonar images from Site 2.

Over Site 2 right now. (You can vaguely see Alcatraz in the background.)

Here's the setup for viewing inside the cabin.

Getting the Starfish rigged up now.

Packing up the boat: the Mahe 36 catamaran from OCSC Sailing. We're spending the day on the Bay, running some preliminary sonar transects and ROV dives on promising targets. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the day.

Many thanks to Doug Jackson (svseeker.com) for coming along, and for making this great video of the trip:

Hit bottom at 84 meters. Transecting along the bottom. Still no sign of settlement. Dominik driving.

Andrew driving. 70m depth. Video will be posted later.

Command station operational. Boat en route to the site.

The boat and radio link that will connect back to the U-Haul.

Command station set up. Took ~10 minutes.

Back of the U-Haul van. Pre-command station.

Just got to the site. The low water levels are striking.

Laying out the tools on the eve of the expedition.

Testing the boat layout inside HQ.

Eric is making a new topside box for the radio link.

Liam calls this "Dental Parking Lot" landscaping. People design for low maintenance. Too bad, because it's a perfect opportunity for native habitat.

Amber catches a Painted Lady.

Necessary equipment: wide brim hat and a butterfly net.

The Tigers lay their eggs on the poplars in Sue Beirman Park.

Sue Beirman Park is a major Tiger Swallowtail habitat.

Liam shares a photo of the view from Twin Peaks.

Ken shows off the Nerds for Nature air monitoring unit. Microclimates and weather have a massive role in butterfly habitat.

The Knight Foundation has announced the Market Street Prototyping Festival, a grant program for ideas on how to improve and enhance Market Street in SF: marketstreetprototyping.org The Nature in the City team will meet today to brainstorm about their submission. We'll be taking notes here.

Current water levels on Lake Shasta are LOW. Shasta has been something of a poster child for how the drought is affecting California. Here are images of submerged artifacts: redding.com/news/relics-exposed-lake-shasta We'll see if they're low enough for us to reach the sunken town of Kennett. We're planning to make the trip next Wednesday 10/1. We've got a number of fun technical ideas to try out. More on those soon! Photo via Redding.com

Meeting at the Shorewood Yacht Club

The town of Kennett was "sunk" when the dam was put in to create Lake Shasta. The sunken city now lives at the bottom of lake, around 400 ft deep, depending on water levels. We assume that the lake levels are quite low due to the drought, so we think this is in the perfect range for an OpenROV. It will give us an opportunity to try new lighting configurations at different depths. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennett,_California

The design meeting at Biosphere 2 was inspiring. Rafe and the group had a number of interesting ideas about what to include and/or test. My suggestion, obviously, was very OpenROV and maker movement centric: they should create a makerspace in or near Biosphere 2 that would allow makers/scientists to develop and test new environmental tools and sensors. This suggestion was in response to the growing number of "citizen science and exploration" tools I see cropping up at Maker Faires and on Kickstarter. Each one of these could benefit from a sped-up development cycle of prototyping -> field testing -> prototyping -> field testing. Biosphere 2 - with their diverse and controllable habitats - would truly be a one of a knd facility for developing these types of tools.

Sign that showed what their original workshop looked like during the Biosphere missions.

The tour of the rest of the facility. Starts with walking through the airlock door that the orginal Biospherians went through

A topside view of the ocean habitat.

A view of the ocean habitat. Nearly 700,000 gallons. Downstairs/outside viewing gallery. Felt very like an aquarium.

Meeting to plan the day: - Visit Ocean habitat - Brainstorm - Tour rest of facility

Rafe Sagarin is leading the design charratte. You can read more about his work and goals for the ocean portion of Biosphere 2: b2science.org/earth/facility/biome-ocean

One last morning dive. A view from the cabin control station.

Bad weather moves the operation to the pool. Testing new depth hold algorithm.

Then plant the natives. Mark them with a flag for monitoring (and easy watering for neighbors).

Most of the Workday group worked on this site. Weeding.

More buckwheat (and others) to plant.

An area they had recently planted. Watering and maintenence is done by neighborhood volunteers.

A few other species that they'd planted. ____ daisy?

Dune Buckwheat. This is the main plant Nature in the City is planting for Green Hairstreak habitat. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eriogonum_parvifolium

Here are the results from a recent BioBlitz in the area, that the Nerds for Nature crew ran: inaturalist.org/projects/green-hairstreak-butterfly-bioblitz Photo via Mr. Wolf on iNaturalist: inaturalist.org/observations/694887

Worth reading this whole interview with Liam O'Brien about how he became a lepidopterist: http://bit.ly/1wwSsCh "ES: You almost have your own creation myth about how you took up with lepidoptery. LO: It was down the street from here, in the Duboce Triangle. I had just come back from New York, where I did Les Miz for three years, and I was like, get me the hell out of New York City. I had a weird career as an actor. I had a lot of success, a career people would dream of, but I never had an emotional investment. So I got cast to replace Garret Dillahunt in Angels of America. And where I was staying, there was a window facing the back and this butterfly flew into the yard and it was a tiger swallowtail, which is this huge new project I have now. That’s oddly serendipitous, 15 years later. But it’s only in retrospect I can look at that moment and see the change: 180 degrees. Theater was waning. I don’t miss it at all. It was a lot of stress." Amateurs FTW!

The Green Hairstreak Corridor was started by Liam O'Brien. The story of how he got involved (after a long career in the theatre) is quite good. Bay Nature wrote a wonderful article: http://bit.ly/1wwSsCh Nature in the City continues his work, and now organizes the workdays to maintain the corridor. I'm going on Saturday to learn more. http://bit.ly/1wwSsCf

Driving along the bottom. Water surprisingly clear. We'll post the recording of the dive in the debriefing.

Inside the mission control classroom.

And they're off! R/V Paddleboat leaves the dock.

On board the research vessel.

Turning a paddle boat into a ROV deploying research vessel

Step 5: attach base station antenna to door of classroom

Step: add computers and 16 port switch

Setting up the remote operating station. Step 1: Monitors

The class did a pool test at Oakland High a few weeks ago. The ROV drove well, until it developed a small leak. They immediately removed the ROV and have made some fixes that we think will fix the issue. Salt water is less forgiving!

For the past few months, the Oakland High School ESA program has been building an OpenROV for underwater exploration. One of the first big dives will be at Lake Merritt, which is a location the class knows well, and has collected important environmental data on for many years. We're going to be attempting to stream the dive in realtime via G+.

Last dive of the weekend. Testing the PVC endcaps.

First test of the cabin control. Bob Ballard has pioneered this approach with the Inner Space Station. We've recreated that experience using and OpenROV and a Google Hangout. Dive coming later this afternoon.

View of the lake from the cabin. The view we woke up to this morning. Preparing the boats and getting ready to test the wireless system. Stay tuned.

First night dive to test equipment. Time in water: 12:05am-12:32am

Setting up the control station at the cabin in Tahoe.

Here's a great post about the history of the SS Tahoe: "The Captains of the Lake's "Queen Steamer" tahoehistory.info/archives/818

Here's a video from a dive at Bahia Los Frailes. (Warning: it's quite long.)

Still working on debriefing. Something that stood out: Ocean Sampling Day We learned about Ocean Sampling Day after our trip and too bad! They had already thought about and planned for a lot of the issues we faced, including sampling procedure, permits, and other hurdles. Seeing their Handbook would have saved us a few long nights of research. Oh well! We learned a lot. Also, this is another example of the shrinking gap between traditional and citizen science. Here's the website: microb3.eu/osd (Make sure to check out the handbook!)

Underway to Isla Espiritu Santu. Heavy winds. Captian Ryan shows us the boson's chair can be quite a ride!

Laying out the water filter pump.

Mac sketches out the experiment

Zack prepping for night dives in Bahia de los Muertos

Mac and Scotty pull out the Microscope for a closer look.

Plankton net scooped these out of the water.

Preparing for a night dive in Bahia Los Frailes Photo via

Sunrise in Cabo. Excited to get out on the water.

Packing up now. Good news: OpenROVs are carry-on. Bad news: tough to explain to customs agents.

It not really an expedition until you've got the chart.

Eric and Walt building water sampling devices in the lab.

Citizen Science and Exploration: Who Makes the Rules? As we continue to prepare for our Cortez trip, someone casually questioned what kind of permits we had to obtain. I mean, certainly we had obtained the relevant permissions to take biological samples in Mexico. Not exactly. OK, so we'll get permits. Should be straightforward enough. Fill out some paperwork, send it in, get the permits in the mail. No big deal. Not exactly. Read more...

Blog from the Sea of Cortez: Useful Science? In earlier posts, we talked about our hypothesis: falling costs and accessibility of the tools needed for science and exploration are opening up a new opportunity for amateur explorers. Well, science and exploration are much bigger ideas than just the tools. And it's important we be honest about the entire process as we prepare for our trip to Cortez. For us, it didn't start with a scientific hypothesis. It started with a curiosity, with the structure, explanation, and process modeled from there. Mac Cowell, co-founder of DIYBio.org and Genefoo, has been spearheading the scientific portion of our trip. Here he gives an explanation of how we're thinking about it, and how it's coming together. Read more...

Citizen Exploration: An Amateur Revolution The amateur has a bit of an identity crisis. Not any specific amateur, more the idea. Just look at the Merriam-Webster definition: am·a·teur noun \ˈa-mə-(ˌ)tər, -ˌtu̇r, -ˌtyu̇r, -ˌchu̇r, -chər\ : a person who does something (such as a sport or hobby) for pleasure and not as a job : a person who does something poorly : a person who is not skillful at a job or other activity Read more...

The Blog from the Sea of Cortez "That plan was simple, straight-forward, and only part of the truth. But we did tell the truth to ourselves. We were curious. Our curiosity was not limited, but was as wide and horizonless as that of Darwin or Agassiz or Linnaeus or Pliny. We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality." -John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez Almost 75 years ago, John Steinbeck, Ed “Doc” Ricketts and a group of others took a trip down the California coast, around Baja, and into the Sea of Cortez. The goals of the trip were vaguely scientific, building on “Doc” Ricketts' earlier work of cataloguing the biology of the San Francisco Bay. There were other factors involved, too, most of which can be attributed to the historically understated motivation of "why not?". Read more...

Makers: the New Explorers of the Universe "[In] the last century, discovery was basically finding things. And in this century, discovery is basically making things." So explained Stewart Brand at the TED conference this past February. He was referring to the National Geographic Society's rationale for hosting the first-ever meeting on de-extinction — a gathering of scientists and engineers who are using biotechnology to bring back extinct species. Read more...

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