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Images: Basic Sea Cable Gets a High-tech Upgrade

After the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, oil spreading in surface waters could be monitored by airplane or satellite, as in this NASA image. Tracking oil below the surface is much more difficult. A new Ethernet system devised by WHOI engineer Marshall Swartz will make it possible for scientists to gather real-time data on oil in the depths. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Marshall Swartz, an ocean engineer at WHOI, used mostly off-the-shelf components to turn ordinary sea cable into a data superhighway capable of relaying massive amounts of data from deep underwater to researchers at the surface. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Marshall Swartz and engineer assistant Allison Heater deploy "CTD Cam," a rosette of instruments and a deep-sea camera linked to the ship via the sea cable that Swartz had adapted to function as part of an Ethernet system. In a two-day span during this cruise to the Gulf of California, Swartz's system delivered 15,000 high-quality images of seafloor features and organisms. (Photo courtesy of Adam Soule, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Among the first images sent via Marshall Swartz's Ethernet system were these from the Guaymas Basin, more than a mile below the surface of the Gulf of California. The presence of living communities indicates that methane is being released from the seafloor. a) a large crab on a crusty mound of carbonate excreted by methane-eating bacteria; b) an octopus and starfish forage in an area crisscrossed by clam trails; c) patches of carbonate produced by bacteria trap methane below them, making the patches good habitat for scraggly clusters of tube worms; d) brittle stars twinkle among clams, which have dug into the sediment and left their two siphons (which appear as side-by-side holes) protruding into the water. (Photos by CTD Cam on NSF-funded OASIS cruise, courtesy of D. Lizarralde, A. Soule, and J. Seewald, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

They’re not much to look at, but these items enabled Marshall Swartz to create a data-transmission system that ocean scientists call a "game changer" for its ease of use, low cost, and ability to rapidly transmit high-quality data and images.

(Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Marshall Swartz readies a rosette of instruments and sampling bottles for use in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. Scientists from WHOI will deploy the instruments, which include a current profiler and an underwater mass spectrometer, to try to determine the composition, size, and movement of plumes of chemicals from the oil spill deep within the Gulf. They will receive real-time data from the instruments via a new Ethernet system Swartz developed. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)