The Drop Cam Project – An Exploration Science Initiative

The Drop Cam Project – An Exploration Science Initiative (DAY 1 )

The University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, has created a new “Exploration Science™” Program.

A partnership between the University of Miami and National Geographic
A collaboration between the University of Miami and National Geographic


The Drop Cam Project is among the first collaborative efforts of the program. The goal of this project is to characterize the nocturnal species distribution and potential interactions along a vertical depth gradient spanning from the surface down to 2000 ft.

The largest migration on earth is that of the plankton that moves from the depths of the ocean to the surface at night. Following the plankton is a chain of species taking advantage of this pulse in resources. However, the night-time distribution of species relative to one another along this depth gradient remains poorly understood. Along this gradient there is potential for unique predator-prey interactions among the different species. The objectives of this project are to (1) identify the night-time species assemblages, (2) describe their vertical distribution and (3) explore their potential predator-prey interactions along a depth gradient from the surface down to 2000 ft deep.

For this project, the latest underwater video technology in ocean exploration will be utilized.  These drop cameras are self-contained, autonomous, units that are able to regulate their own depth using a specialized bladder system. The drop cams are programmed to move and record throughout the water column without any tethers. The use of lights and reflectors allow the cameras to capture video at night.

The core field team is made up of:

–       Eric Berkenpas – National Geographic

–       Alan Turichik – National Geographic

–       Brad Henning – National Geographic

–       Neil Hammerschlag – University of Miami

Day 1

The first day of the expedition was used for testing the gear. The day started at 6 am. The team went offshore to deploy the drop cams. However, the swells and choppy seas forced the team to go back to the dock and test the gear at the marina. The day was spent working to get the buoyancy system dialed in. A mistake in the buoyancy can result in the cameras failing to sink, but even worse, failing to ascend to the surface from depth. Losing a camera would not only be detrimental to the project, but would also be a huge hit to National Geographic. The cameras are extremely expensive and are a result of thousands of hours of brainstorming, engineering, building, programming and testing.


Stay tuned for day 2.


The drop cam set up. In the background is the camera and in the foreground is the bladder system to maintain buoyancy
The drop cam set up. In the background is the camera and in the foreground is the bladder system to maintain buoyancy (Image: Neil Hammerschlag)



Research Associate Professor at the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science Dedicated to advancing marine conservation through research, education and outreach Views my Own
  • Patti

    Hi, I just watched on youtube, National Geographic Documentary- Bermuda Triangle Mystery- Secret Revealed and I have a few questions about your dropcam.. A weight is attached to help with descending. How is dropcam able to ascend? Is the weight automatically released after several hours? And does it have to decompress?

    • Coto

      From what I understand: Communication with the Dropcam once it’s underwater is impossible (VHF waves are inefficient underwater). Therefore, the Dropcam would let go of the weights after X hours and rise up to the surface, where the VHF beacon WILL be enabled (to help the guys locate the orange flag) and then they’d just pick it up and review the footage.

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