Scientists actively monitor methane “seeps” on the ocean floor that release large amounts of methane gas, a major contributor to global warming. Fortunately, there are certain microbial communities living underneath the seafloor that consume the gas as a food source, preventing much of the methane from reaching the Earth’s atmosphere. 

The Orphan Lab at Caltech seeks to understand the extent of these microbial communities by collecting deep sea sediment samples where there are visual indicators of microbial activity. However, collecting samples is inherently challenging; the communities move locations over time, they exist where there are no visible indicators, and the dives themselves are expensive. How could we help their team choose the next location(s) to collect samples, in order to illuminate the “edges” of these microbial communities in places without visual indicators?

In response, we developed an interactive workspace for their team to upload their data to and see it displayed across multiple connected views in real-time. Interactive maps at near-centimeter resolution of the ocean floor are shown with locations of and information about previous dives and collected samples, alongside interactive 3D views of data interpolations in the space between these prior samples. These interpolations can be run on-the-fly, allowing the scientists to “see” below the seafloor and predict the most likely places for them to successfully collect new samples. They can also make annotations on the maps and take notes for planning future dives. This combination of tactical decision-making and deep insight into the data can help them build a stronger intuition about the spatial distributions of geochemical processes and microbial communities, ultimately facilitating more informed future site selection.