The Ocean Observatories Initiative has landed this July in Pacific City, Oregon, beginning a new era in oceanography.

When the huge Ocean Observatories Project becomes operational in a couple of years, scientists will be able to listen to migrating whales, study dwindling fish stocks, spot never-before-seen microbes, watch for processes leading to major earthquakes and warn about approaching tsunami as well as pilot autonomous underwater vehicles.

The Cable Ship Dependable laid the cable for the sub-sea science network (Facebook and Twitter).

The fiber optic line also supplies electrical power to a variety of sub-sea instruments for 24/7 monitoring off the West Coast, which is due for a large subduction zone earthquake, not unlike Japan’s Sendai earthquake and tsunami.

Contractor L3 MariPro and TE Subcom (formerly Tyco), brought the cable ashore. A truck-mounted wench hauled the cable through a pre-drilled conduit under the seabed, from the ship to the shore.

The ocean observatory cable is not a long range transpacific cable. It has two legs, one to an undersea volcano, about 300 miles offshore, with another leg going to an array near Newport. The cable terminates at a cable vault on the beach, then to a Pacific City landing station a few blocks away. It gets backhauled to Portland on an existing fiber network, then to the University of Washington, UCSD and other institutions.

TE SubCom has designed, manufactured, and installed more than 100 undersea fiber optic systems around the world. Pacific Fibre and SubCom will build a new trans-Pacific cable from New Zealand and Australia to Los Angeles. It will each have two fiber pairs, with an ultimate cable design capacity of 12.8 Tbps.

Initial capacity of the Regional Cable Node will be delivery of up to 200kW of power and 240Gbps of TCP/IP Internet data communications to the seven primary science nodes.

Initial study sites for the Regional Scale Nodes will be at Axial Volcano and Hydrate Ridge. The Mid Plate node is designed to be instrumented in the future and to accommodate cable(s) to other sites, according to the University of Washington.

The Axial Seamount last erupted in 1998. It’s 3,600 ft high, in 4,600 ft of water, just 300 mi west of Cannon Beach, Oregon. It will be wired up. Microbes scooped from hydrotermal vents and other extreme environments can create new enzymes for extreme industrial processes, like the production of biofuels from cellulose or DNA amplification (NPR: Science Friday).

Hydrate Ridge, a site for gas hydrate research, is a second area being wired with OOI sensors, starting about 50 miles offshore from Newport. The Endurance Array (graphic) includes fixed sites near Grays Harbor, WA and Newport, OR. Six autonomous gliders will bridge the distances between the fixed sites.

The concept of a regional cabled ocean observatory was nurtured and developed at UW, by John Delany (below).

The original Neptune Plan (pdf, below) envisioned a larger, more complex underwater network.

The original plan was scaled back while additional level(s) of bureaucracy were added. Three Implementing Organizations are responsible for construction and development of the overall program. The University of Washington is responsible for cabled seafloor systems and moorings on the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.

The University of California, San Diego, is implementing the cyberinfrastructure component (pdf). NOAA standardizes different data sets into a common file format to make graphs and maps. Unidata, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, is one of eight programs in the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). It provides streaming observational data to university classrooms world-wide.

OPeNDAP and NOAA’s Environmental Research Data Access Program (ERDDAP) provide software which makes local datasets accessible to remote locations. The Integrated Ocean Observing System hopes to pull it all together.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and its partners, Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are responsible for the coastal and global moorings and their autonomous vehicles. OSU’s fleet of 21 ocean AUVs including Slocum Gliders and Remus 600 craft will be able to map ocean currents – from the surface to the bottom of the ocean – and detect where underwater “rivers” run.

A buoy-based observatory that uses Iridium’s 2.4K modem and acoustic communication to retrieve data from water column has been deployed in 2362 m (7,750 feet) of water near Vancouver Island, BC (pdf). With the wireless acoustically linked approach, up to 15 separate instruments can be set up as far as three kilometers (1.8 miles) away from the base of the mooring.

The Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) has a real-time sensor network 900 meters below the surface of Monterey Bay.

MBARI’s MARS and Neptune Canada will be integrated into a vast global network that is expected to move science in unforeseen directions.

NEPTUNE Canada began building their network about two years ago. It’s based out of the University of Victoria but remains isolated from the US regional network due to politics.

Delany has apparently managed to steer this thing though a minefield of conflicting interests, including the DOD, scientists, government bureaucrats and funding agencies.

Whether the military has negatively impacted public safety with data restrictions may never be known for sure. Delany’s vision has clearly been persuasive.

GEOMAR, based in Germany, has developed deep-sea landers for similar ocean observatories. Mining manganese nodules and gas hydride modules is driven by commerce. A discovery of rare earths in international near Hawaii, reportedly contains 80 to 100 billion metric tons of rare earths, almost surpassing China’s 110 billion tons of proven reserves. The consequences of this discovery are considerable, according to research by the New York Times (below).

But scientists warn that methane hydrates, stored in the sea floor as ice, are melting as a result of global warming and may further drive climate change.

The shutdown of thermohaline circulation, which is sometimes called the ocean’s conveyor belt, is a postulated effect of global warming.

Undersea mining would also disrupt deep sea communities, about which little is known.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), is the intergovernmental body established to organize and control all mineral-related activities in the international waters. The United States, with some of the most advanced ocean technology in the world, has not yet ratified the Law of the Sea Convention, however, and is thus not a member.

There are currently more than a dozen major Ocean Observatories worldwide, with more planned.

Whether the Regional Scale Node will be a “dual use” observatory, supporting both science and industry, even the military, is still not clear. Their goals can be at odds.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) provides special rights over off-shore exploration and marine resources. It stretches from the coast out to 200 nautical miles.

But parts of the RSN are apparently in international waters, some 300 miles from shore. That would include the extremophile-rich Axial site. The potentially fuel-rich Hydride Ridge, on the other hand, is inside the EEZ.

Neptune Canada does NOT connect to the U.S. network underwater as originally planned. Politics, not science, may have weighed against it. One might argue, for example, that OOI contractors like Raytheon, which has a good track record at software infrastructure, will come at the expense of a more open system. Raytheon’s headquarters in Aurora, CO , is right across the street from NSA’s Buckley Aerospace Data Facility.

Will the cyberinfrastructure incorporate data silos? What’s the risk/benefit? Will policies change over time? Who can say how OOI will evolve. The US Navy owns about half the UNOLS Research Vessels. It seems naive to believe military and private industry would not be stakeholders. Like NASA. Without the PR budget.

The cult of Delany has helped create a base of science advocates, however, and the threat of tsunami may reinforce that support by the public. So far OOI appears to be aiming for transparency and clearly defined science goals. Climate change is a global phenomena. That much is clear.

You can now travel to new depths with Ocean in Google Earth.

Google collaborated with Columbia University to add their Global Multi-Resolution Topography (GMRT) so you can now explore half the ocean area that has ever been mapped, an area larger than North America.

EarthObserver is a mobile app created at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for the iPhone and iPad. It features Geophysical Maps with global earthquakes, tectonic plates and boundaries, gravity anomalies, geoid height, magnetic anomalies and world stresses.

The ultimate goal is to enable scientists to interactively visualize, analyze, and correlate petabytes of data from multiple storage sites connected to optical networks.

According to calculations by Chris Goldfinger, a geologist at Oregon State University, there’s an 80 percent chance that the portion of the fault off southern Oregon and Northern California would break in the next 50 years. The Cascadia Subduction Zone Quake will generate two Tsunami waves, one propagating towards the coast, and the other towards the deep ocean and Hawaii. It will take only minutes to reach the coasts of Oregon, Washington, southern British Columbia, and northern California with wave heights reaching close to 12m (~36ft) in some scenarios.

Portland’s Multnomah County Courthouse will tumble. Several of the 10 bridges across the Willamette River will collapse—the Steel Bridge, Sellwood Bridge and Marquam Bridge, most likely—and the rest will be impassible, according to

Underground gas, power and water lines will be pulverized. The soil beneath the Portland International Airport will temporarily turn to soup, says James Roddey, the Earth Sciences Information Officer for the Oregon Department of Geology.

Tom DeFanti’s 3D CAVE, hooked up to an Optiputer by Larry Smarr are some of the components of the new science architecture, along with shared databases for interactive collaboration.

The OptIPuter is a personal supercomputer that instantaneously connects to global databases as fast as local hard drives. The OptIPuter uses dedicated (not shared) 10-GigE optical strands.

It uses a Glimmerglass optical switch to link those strands into the National LambdaRail (NLR).

In the future, oceanography, medicine, geology, physics and other science research projects will likely use high speed fiber networks and shared databases, say proponents.

The Open Geospatial Consortium encourages open standards for geospatial content and services. WebGL generates interactive 3D graphics within any compatible web browser. Google Body uses WebGL to display 3D images inside web-browsers, unlike the KML-based Google Earth application.

Sensor networks with 24/7 availability are expected to be more cost/effective and useful then sporadically sending scientists into the field to gather samples. It also allows global, real-time sharing and collaboration of data.

It’s a new architecture for science.

Ari Shapiro in his Ocean Gazing Podcast, interviewed marine geologist Deborah Kelley, who expressed her goals and aspirations for OOI; “This way, this new way of doing science, none of the data will be really protected. It’s open for the entire world to use, and I think that will be a challenge, but it’s also a gigantic opportunity. And I think that’s gonna be one of the best parts of the program.”

The future of large government sponsored ocean research and data sharing could be subject to change. Perhaps big Pharma and wave energy will launch private initiatives. Microseismic arrays promise real-time tomographic imagery over vast areas. Put a ViaSat-1 bird on it and have Intel’s basestation cloud servers do the math. Faster, cheaper, better.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Ocean Observatory Network Lands in Oregon, The Other Atlantis, Haiti Earthquake, Japan Tsunami, Ocean Robots Go Long, Amazon Cloud for Ocean Observatories, Ocean Observatories: The Ultimate Splash Page, CitiSense: Cellular Environmental Monitoring, Robot Crosses Atlantic – Underwater, Ocean Observatory Gets Funded, Tsunami Monitoring, Ring of Fire Earthquake, On Mt St. Helens, Plug and Play Environmental Sensor Nets, Google Ocean Unveiled, Wireless River Monitoring, Shipboard AIS Gets a Satellite Swarm, Cascadia Peril ‘09, Swine Flu Gets Social, Tracking Soldiers, Mapping Relief, Wildfire, Volcano Sensor Net, Alaskan Volcano Monitored, California Wildfires Networked, Fish Net, Wireless River Monitoring, Remote Ocean Viewer, Wireless Recon Airplanes, Mt St Helens Erupts, On Mt. Saint Helens, Global Tsunami Warning System Announced, and Subducting the Zone

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