Information streams live from sensors two miles below the ocean surface, gathering data for years at a time and providing a video stream accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
After making do with battery-powered sensors that would need to be retrieved before their data could be accessed, engineers at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory are working to make these groundbreaking live-sensor oceanography tools a reality through the world’s largest underwater observatory off the Washington coast.
The $239 million project, known as the Regional Scale Nodes program (RSN), is just one component of the larger Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The initiative was launched and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2009 as an effort to build a network of sensor systems to monitor variables in the ocean water and on the seafloor.
John Delaney, director of RSN, said such observatories could dramatically change how research is conducted. For his research on underwater volcanoes, these tools could provide access to an otherwise unseen world.
“No matter how dynamic something is, if you see it only two or three times a year, every other year, then it’s hard to understand what’s happening,” he said.
The observatory will use fiber-optic cables to provide a constant, remote view of the seafloor, allowing researchers access to the data from their lab, office, or even their living room.
The RSN will provide groundbreaking amounts of electrical power and data bandwidth to seven primary nodes and 17 secondary nodes through roughly 900 kilometers of telecommunications cable.