Each summer, a team of students and faculty from Caltech heads out to a small uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea. This is no vacation, however: they are there to study the microbial mats that cover the island. The mats are layered structures built by Cyanobacteria that host a wide range of microorganisms and provide researchers with details about the ecology and environments on the island.
The visiting team brought aerial drones from the Bruce Murray Laboratory for Planetary Visualization to fly over the island that use stereo imaging to create a 3-D landscape maps of the microbial mat distributions. In the future, larger drones could carry heavier payloads like spectrometers and other chemical sensors, which would record even more detailed information about the mats.
This research is made possible by funding from the Agouron Foundation.