Bringing the Ocean to Society
4 Dec 2020
IEO's Liropus underwater robot turns 10
EurOcean's member IEO is celebrating Liropus Robot birthday!

For a decade, the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) has had an important marine research team capable of operating up to more than 2,000 meters deep and that facilitates the investigation of large sea beds by non-invasive means. The Liropus, a Remote Operated Vehicle, ROV, allows direct observation of habitats and biological communities in their natural state, its structure and its ecological fundamental characteristics and also allowing taking samples selectively without producing impacts on them.

The Liropus2000 ROV, weighing half a ton, got its name from Liropus cachuchoensis, a new species of amphipod described in 2008 in El Cachucho, declared as the first Marine Protected Area in Spain based on studies led by the IEO and among which operations with the Liropus are included. In these 10 years we have worked with the Liropus in 28 oceanographic campaigns carried out in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Among its milestones we can mention the first filming in a recently created underwater volcano, El Tagoro on the island of El Hierro; participation in important archaeological campaigns, such as the scientific expedition to the “Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes” wreck; or the discovery of ecosystems and habitats of great ecological importance such as rocky reefs with coral, gorgonian forests, sponges and soft corals, among others,that constitute part of the vulnerable marine ecosystems of high biodiversity value.

The Liropus plays a fundamental role by allowing obtaining the necessary information to complete the commitments assumed in different national and international projects in which the IEO participates, such as the RETOS projects of the State Research Agency of the Ministry of Science and Innovation; in collaboration with the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, such as the INTEMARES project - the largest marine environment conservation project in Europe to guarantee the conservation of marine species and habitats of the Natura 2000 Network - and its predecessor INDEMARES, thanks to which 10 underwater Sites of Community Importance were declared in Spain.

In addition, its use in research campaigns allows to know in depth and greater detail the great biodiversity found in our seas, generating new scientific knowledge within the framework of the Spanish Marine Strategies, which are the planning instrument of the marine environment arising from the “  Marine Strategy Framework Directive” to analyse the current state of the seas and oceans and determine their good environmental status, as well as comply with the directives of the OSPAR Commission and the Habitats Directive of the European Council. All these marine research studies carried out with the Liropus have contributed to an 8-fold increase in the protected marine area in Spain, making significant progress in complying with the European Habitats Directive by extending the Natura 2000 Network to the marine environment, in addition to also contributing to achieve the objective set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, of which Spain is a signatory, of designating as protected areas at least 10% of the planet's seas and oceans.

This ROV carries out its dives on board the Spanish oceanographic research vessels, such as the Ramón Margalef and Ángeles Alvariño of the IEO and also in the Sarmiento de Gamboa of the CSIC. It is the ROV SUPER MOHAWK II model with six engines that give it great power and a great load capacity that allows it to carry scientific measuring and sampling instruments. It is equipped with probes to measure temperature, pressure and salinity, a Doppler effect current meter (to study currents at various working depths), a powerful 17,000 lumens lighting systemof power and high-performance cameras to guarantee the high quality of images recorded in depth. It also has two precision hydraulic manipulator arms for collecting objects and a suction system for liquid and gaseous samples.

The acquisition of the Liropus involved an initial investment of 1,500,000 euros, financed 80 percent with ERDF funds and the remaining 20 percent with the IEO budget, this action being included in the ERDF Agreement (FICTS-2010-01-1) established with the then Ministry of Science and Innovation. "Its technical and operational capacity, with new equipment, has been expanded to respond to the demands arising from research projects," says José Ignacio Díaz, head of the IEO Ship Unit.