About the Deep-Sea Guide

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) maintains a well-established database of deep-sea observations that have been recorded by its remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) during 25+ years of operation. The database and associated software system, VARS (Video Annotation and Reference System), represents our collective knowledge and serves as an investigative tool that has facilitated hundreds of deep-sea research publications as well as countless technical, agency, educational, and outreach projects. From this unique dataset, MBARI’s video annotation team has developed the Deep-Sea Guide (DSG). The DSG is a web-based system that allows for the correlation of visual, descriptive, and observational data with environmental data from multiple sources by providing tools for searching, identifying, and examining occurrence data (e.g., depth, time, abundance) for biological, geological, and experimental observations.

Basic features include searching and browsing by name (both common and scientific), image, or taxonomic relationship, customizable comparison tables, access to unique descriptive entries, and links to references and taxonomic authorities. Also included are quality assessment metrics, which enable more precise characterization of taxa and better understanding of how data collection and analysis methods can be optimized. Delving deeper into mining this temporally and spatially rich dataset, standardized data products are created to provide a variety of data snapshots (e.g. raw or normalized depth distribution histograms for any observed taxa) allowing for efficient review and analysis. These new tools are delivering quantitative and qualitative information required for biodiversity assessment studies within MBARI’s research locations and could provide context for and contribute to modeling of studies farther afield. In a continuing effort to refine sampling and analysis methods and to improve the effective exchange of information between deep-sea researchers, deep-sea community members are encouraged to contact MBARI’s video analysis team to suggest improvements and explore potential collaborations.

Data Characteristics Disclaimer:

The conceptual data found in the Deep-Sea Guide are derived directly from our VARS knowledgebase, which contains over 4000 concepts that encompass the taxonomy of marine organisms, geologic features, and tools used for conducting our deep-sea research. Functioning as an ‘encyclopedia’, this knowledgebase is used in the VARS annotation program to consistently characterize video observations as well as retrieve completed annotations based on user-customized queries. The annotation staff continually enrich the database content by adding concept names, descriptive, and visual information as our own knowledge grows.

Though they have proven to have great inherent and inferred scientific value, the observational data summarized in the DSG Data Products were not always collected using systematic research procedures. Among other factors, biases have been introduced as a result of differing camera capabilities, mission objectives, budgetary circumstances, environmental conditions, and as well as evolving science terminology and observational techniques.


MBARI typically embargoes annotation and related data for two years for internal quality control and analysis. In addition, extensions to this period are sometimes granted for specific data sets, which are still undergoing review and analysis for publication. The majority of our observational and related data older than two years are available through this Guide and the VARS Public Query system, but it should not be assumed that these data are representative of the entire MBARI video annotation database.

Quality Control:

These data are published monthly. Due to the nature of video data collection and analysis processes from ROVs and other platforms, identifications of marine organisms may change based on new research findings or technological advances (e.g., higher-resolution camera systems), and biases may be introduced as described above. Further, the data provided in MBARI's video annotation database (VARS) are continuously undergoing updates to reflect quality control and other improvements. For these reasons, no specific data sets obtained from the DSG and VARS Query system should be considered for scientific publication without first obtaining appropriate written verification from MBARI. If you wish to use this data for scientific publication, please contact Nancy Jacobsen Stout ( to arrange for additional data review and distribution. For full terms of use, see: Data Use.

Copyright © 2015