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Ocean Observatories Initiative

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overview map

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Overview map of the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), showing the four global sites and the two coastal sites of the WHOI-led Coastal and Global Scale Nodes (CSGN) component of OOI. (Image courtesy Center for Environmental Visualization, University of Washington) (Image courtesy Center for Environmental Visualization, University of Washington)

Endurance Array

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The Endurance Array spans the continental shelf on the west coast off Oregon and Washington, sampling both north and south of the mouth of the Columbia River. A line of moorings at Newport, Oregon and a line of moorings at Gray’s Harbor, Washington will be complemented by three ocean gliders.
(Illustration courtesy College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University)

Pioneer Array

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The Pioneer Array, to be deployed in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, will combine moorings, ocean gliders and AUVs to sample a region spanning the continental shelf where depth falls off quickly, changing from 100 m to 500 m deep across the array of 10 moorings. Some of the buoys will generate power and provide that power to AUV docking stations on the sea floor.
(Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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Schematic of the array of four moorings and three gliders to be deployed at the global OOI sites. The surface mooring supports power generation, sampling of surface meteorology and of air-sea exchanges, hardware for data telemetry, and deployment of ocean instruments close to the surface. The profiler mooring will be located about 10 km from the surface mooring and has two profilers: one sampling from below a subsurface float at about 200m to the sea floor, and one that winches itself up to the sea surface from 200 m. The far corners of the moored array, about 50 km away from the surface mooring, have taut subsurface moorings with instruments attached along the mooring lines. The gliders will sample between and around the moorings and will acoustically collect data from the subsurface moorings. (Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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» Ocean Observatory Initiative (OOI)

In 2010, staff from WHOI’s Physical Oceanography and Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering departments expanded and intensified work on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). 

WHOI is the lead contractor on a major component of the OOI, the Coastal and Global Scale Nodes (CGSN—observing platforms to be built both near the U.S. coast to document coastal processes and in deep water in globally significant sites to monitor surface-to-seafloor), assisted by partners at Oregon State University (OSU) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) and by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.

The successful Final Design Review of WHOI’s OOI plan occurred in March 2009. The availability of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 brought the start of the project forward from the planned date of July 2010 to September of 2009. Most of the funding, however, comes from the NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction, or MREFC, account. The goal of MREFC investments is to bring a sector of U.S. science to the forefront of its field by investing in the infrastructure needed to advance the science. The NSF calls for 25 years of OOI operations following design and initial installation. Work in 2010, under ARRA and MREFC support, included aspects of design, procurement, and implementation. We began to staff the operations and maintenance teams and to develop procedures and plans for the operations and maintenance phase of OOI.

The team at WHOI has worked with the support of the WHOI administration to build a sound foundation for the OOI effort—hiring staff as WHOI employees and bringing in contractors from Raytheon and Science Applications International Incorporated, obtaining space at a leased facility on Carlson Lane in Falmouth, Mass. beginning in early 2010, and helping plan space for operations and maintenance in the new Laboratory of Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems (LOSOS). WHOI won funding from the National Institute for Standards and Technology of the Department of Commerce for this building. Ground was broken in August 2010 and occupation is expected in 2012. Our partners at OSU and SIO have also worked to set up the teams to support the 66-month period of the MREFC in which the designs are completed, the infrastructure built, and the initial deployments carried out.

Another element of the OOI is the Regional Scale Node (RSN) component, a cabled seafloor and water column observatory being designed and implemented by the University of Washington. Both the CGSN and RSN observatories data will be collected, stored, and made freely available to users by the Cyber Infrastructure (CI) component of the OOI led by the University of California, San Diego. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership is the overall leading organization for the OOI project.

A closer look at the planned Coastal and Global Scale Nodes illustrates the scope, interaction, and promise for continuous ocean observation that they represent.

The CGSN component includes two coastal observatories and four global observatories (Figure 1). The two coastal observatories, the Endurance Array off Oregon and Washington (Figure 2) and the Pioneer Array in the mid-Atlantic Bight (Figure 3), combine instrumented moorings and autonomous vehicles carrying sensors. At the Endurance Array and at the Pioneer Array, ocean gliders, which change their buoyancy and ‘glide’ forward as they rise and fall through the water column, will sample across their geographic regions and sample in specific patterns in response to different events, such as the passage of an eddy through their ocean regions or a passing  surface storm. The Gliders move slowly, at about 1/2 knot, and will be used to sample between moored arrays. At the Pioneer Array, powered autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will also be used to sample between and close by moorings of the moored array.

  • The Endurance Array has two sets of moorings—one set of 6 aligned east-west off Newport, Oregon, with a pair of moorings at 25 m, 80m, and 500m depth; and a similar set off Gray’s Harbor, Washington. Each pair has a surface mooring and a subsurface mooring. The subsurface moorings and benthic packages at the 500m and 80m Newport sites are attached to the fiber and copper cable of the RSN.
  • The Pioneer Array has 10 moorings, both surface and profiling moorings. Structures on the seafloor at the base of some Endurance and Pioneer Array moorings will serve as platforms for mounting sensors, and, at the Pioneer Array, t provide a place for the AUVs to dock to exchange data and obtain power.
  • Two of the four global observatories will be deployed in the northern hemisphere: one in the Irminger Sea southeast of Greenland, and one in the Gulf of Alaska in partnership with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL). The other two will be in the southern hemisphere, off southern Chile and in the Argentine Basin.
  • Each global array (Figure 4) combines the use of four moorings and three ocean gliders. The four moorings include a surface mooring, an adjacent mooring with two profiling instrument packages—one that moves from about 200 m depth to the surface and one that moves from 200 m depth to near the sea floor—and two taut subsurface moorings. The moorings will form a four-sided moored array whose sampling will be complemented by sampling done by three ocean gliders. These gliders will also use acoustic modems to collect data from the subsurface moorings and make it available in near-real time, along with data to be telemetered from the surface mooring and the adjacent profiler mooring.

The CGSN observatories will provide data from the full water column, from the sea surface to the sea floor. More than 680 sensors will be used at CGSN sites, making observations of air-sea exchanges and physical, chemical, biological, and geological variability and processes. As much as possible, data will be made available in near-real time.

The OOI is a large undertaking, and work at WHOI in 2010 has laid the foundations for the CGSN observatories:

  • The team will soon be fully staffed and operating under updated schedules and plans.
  • Tests of prototypical hardware were done off Oregon and off the mid-Atlantic Bight. Plans for two more tests are being finalized. 
  • Requirements and specifications have been developed, and acquisition of key elements of the hardware and instrumentation is beginning.
  • Designs are being finalized and prepared for review.

The initial deployments of the CGSN observatories are now scheduled, the times chosen both to provide the best wind and wave conditions for work at sea and to accommodate the planned 12-month turn-around schedules for global arrays and 6-month turn-around schedules for coastal moorings. Coastal gliders will be serviced every three months.

The gliders of the Endurance and Pioneer Arrays will be deployed first, in mid-2012. The Pioneer Array moorings would be added in 2013 to complete that observatory. Additional elements of the Endurance Array to be deployed, in turn, will be the un-cabled moorings of the Newport Oregon line, the Washington mooring line, and finally the cabled elements of the Newport line. The Endurance Array will be completed in 2014; the Argentine Basin observatory will be deployed in the winter of 2012-2013; the Gulf of Alaska and Irminger Sea observatories will be deployed in the summer of 2013; and the observatory off southern Chile will be deployed in the winter of 2013-2014.

Last updated: June 8, 2011

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