Editorial: Inspiration drawn from the deep

IET members tell us they don't just read E&T on the train or at their desks but in all sorts of places: in front of the TV, at the pool, in the bath, even in bed. I know: strange but true. So why not at the beach?

Perhaps right now you're sunning yourself at some scorching seaside resort (in which case you're probably not in Britain), brushing sand or wiping melted ice cream off the pages and glad that it's not a digital edition running on a laptop.

If so, this special underwater issue may be just what you need to cool you off. It's now a bit of a cliché to point out that we know more about the surface of the Moon than the bottom of the Earth's oceans.

I find it more astounding that it's 40 years since we visited the Moon, but only 30 years since scientists explored the ecosystems around deep sea hydrothermal vents or black smokers. These provided the first evidence that life isn't a fortunate accident based on sunlight, but that it always seems to find a way. Perhaps there are more extraordinary discoveries to be made in this hostile and alien environment.

It's engineers that are designing and building the craft to explore this uncharted world under the waves - the Apollo 11s of the deep. And they are developing too the remote control vehicles or communications that allow them to probe even further - the Viking Mars landers of the deep.

One craft, the Nereus, dived seven miles to the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth, at the end of May. On p20 we examine how this unique hybrid of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) works and what it means for the future of exploration and investigation on the ocean seabed. And on p46, we see how engineers are using developments in power and communications technologies to develop future AUVs that will go further for longer and have more intelligence on board to gather more data along the way. In the future, fleets of small swimming machines may be able to work together on underwater missions but to do that they will need to talk to each other. Chris Edwards gets to the bottom of communications through seawater on p70.

Robert Ballard, the man who found and filmed the Titanic, must be the most famous engineer of underwater vehicles. In our interview with him on p42, he explains how electronic travel or telepresence technology will 'network' scientists over the Internet to discoveries at the bottom of the sea, all from the comfort of their university offices. And on p45, we look at why the wreck of Titanic's sister ship, the Brittanic, could be the prototype for this technology.

Egyptologists want to make the remains of Cleopatra's Palace into a stunning underwater museum. On p24, we invite you to send us your ideas on how it might be done.

The deep also of course offers enormous power potential. Everyone's heard about wave and tidal power, but how about Vortex Induced Vibration for Aquatic Clean Energy? Find out how this potentially disastrous force might be harnessed for good on p54. Thermal extremes underwater are another potential power source. It's much warmer on the surface than in the deep. Using it to generate power will call for some really big pipes. Find out how big on p50.

Fears that underwater turbines could harm mammals would call for prohibitively expensive monitoring, but on p72 we look at the technologies from sonar to seal transmitters that could provide cost-effective answers.

Finally, the Royal Navy's biggest attack submarine, HMS Astute, begins sea trials later this year. Find out whose pillow will nudging the nuclear reactor's core in our cutaway graphic on p30.

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