DTIS - Deep Towed Imaging System

NIWA has been using its Deep Towed Imaging System (DTIS) since 2006. DTIS is a camera system designed and built by NIWA staff, which is used to take pictures and video of deep sea biodiversity and seafloor habitats. 

It has high definition still and video cameras, lights, strobes, laser pointers and batteries mounted in a rectangular frame. This frame is attached to the research vessel carrying it - often the R.V. Tangaroa - by a conducting wire.

Find out more about the RV Tangaroa

This wire allows the DTIS to communicate with the vessel, allowing researchers to see a live video feed, control its cameras and lights, and see information on depth and distance from the seabed.

The DTIS runs in transects - stripes - taking video continuously. The full length of each video transect is analysed and assessed for substrate (seabed) type, algae, benthic invertebrates (invertebrates which live on the seafloor), and fish.

While the DTIS is submerged and recording, purpose-designed software called the Ocean Floor Observation Protocol (OFOP) is used to keep track of it, taking care of preliminary processing of the data and recording every occurrence of each organism - this is done very simply by the researcher on duty choosing from a list of taxon names.

Video can also be replayed in the laboratory when a deployment is over. Because all footage is recorded with accurate time stamps and seabed position coordinates, the video can be slowed down, reversed or sped up as needed to help with identifications.

Have a look at the scientific poster 'Seabed images: keeping track & making sense' for more information on how we use OFOP, DTIS and other photographic analysis software called NICAMS.

Seabed images: keeping track & making sense (PDF 8.9 MB)

Further information

Information about a selection of voyages in which DTIS has been involved can be found below.

Critter of the Week

NIWA's Invertebrate Collection has a public Facebook page - Critter of the Week - which introduces and has pictures of a different 'critter' each week.  Many of the photos were taken with the DTIS!

Critter of the Week 

Vulnerable Deep Sea Communities 

In May 2012, NIWA's research vessel Tangaroa returned from a 3-week voyage, with pictures, film footage (see video below) and samples of new discoveries from the deep-sea floor, including footage of a new hydrothermal vent on an undersea volcano.  More information on the voyage: TAN1206: Vulnerable Deep Sea Communities II - can be found in the media release linked to below.

Read our media release 'NIWA returns with undersea creatures and footage of never-before-seen undersea volcanoes and canyons'

See our TAN1206 photo gallery for some of the best specimen photos from the voyage 

TAN1206 photo gallery

Vent and seamount fauna - Tangaroa Seamount from NIWA on Vimeo.


Diversity of seafloor life on Kermadec Seamounts

This amazing footage was captured at the Kermadec Ridge in 2011, by NIWA's Deep-Towed Imaging System (DTIS). The laser dots are 20 cm apart, and allow us to judge the size or scale of the organisms and features we photograph. 

The voyage was part of a survey of valuable ore deposits and ecosystems along the volcanic Kermadec Ridge north of New Zealand, designed to inform both potential development and management of seabed resources in the area.

More details in our article 'Deepsea Minerals of the Kermadec Ridge - Geophysical Prospectivity and Environmental Impacts'

Biodiversity in the Kermadecs from NIWA on Vimeo.


CenSeam - the Census of Marine Life on Seamounts - involved a number of voyages between 2006 and 2010, and the DTIS was used on some of these. See the CenSeam website for details of the research, voyages and results. 

CenSeam website 

Macquarie Ridge - 'Brittle Star City'

In 2008, international attention was focused on 'Brittle Star City', discovered during the TAN0803 voyage. A dense population of brittle stars was discovered on a seamount in Antarctica - as a Water and Atmosphere article wrote at the time, "scientists saw the new metropolis, sitting atop a seamount taller than the world's highest building and crossed by the superhighway that is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. They nicknamed it Brittlestar City."

Read our W&A article 'The submarine metropolis of Brittlestar City'

It was the first time colonies of brittle stars like this had been seen feeding on seamounts. The voyage also brought back numerous other find, many of which turned out to be new to science.

The anatomy of the DTIS camera system: the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) records information about the temperature, depth, and salinity of the water DTIS passes through; the HPR transponder sends acoustic signals to the ship giving the position of DTIS; the altimeter measures how far DTIS is above the seabed, and the tail fin ensures that the unit moves in a consistent direction as it is towed by the ship. Credit: Dave Bowden
DTIS being deployed from RV Tangaroa in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Credit: Dave Bowden
During deployment of the DTIS camera system, researchers use the Ocean Floor Observation Protocol (OFOP) software to track its progress over the seabed and keep a record of organisms and features seen. This example OFOP screen is from DTIS deployments on the Scott Seamounts, Antarctica. Credit: Dave Bowden
Technical drawing of DTIS showing the designed range of optimal heights above the seabed. Credit: Dave Bowden
DTIS footage from 700m deep on a a slope from the Southern Hikurangi Margin, south-east of Wellington. The large starfish nestled amongst the Dermechinus horridus urchins is another filter-feeding echinoderm, Brisinga. The laser dots are 20 cm apart. The footage accompanying this was the first time D. horridus has been seen in video online. Credit: Caroline Chin