The Falmouth Enterprise

Proposed Observatory Will Offer Scientists Expanded Weather Data


     A near-shore observatory that is being planned for the south coast of Martha's Vineyard promises to give Woods Hole scientists a new perspective on the same ocean they study each day.
     The Katama Observatory, a project of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is scheduled to be developed, built, and installed in the waters off Edgartown over the next two years.
     The observatory will be one of only three such facilities on the eastern US coast that collects data 24 hours a day on everything from coastal storms and wave measurements to hurricanes and the impact of winds on the shoreline.
     The two other facilities are the US Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility at Duck, North Carolina, and the Long-term Ecosystem Observatory at Tuckerton, New Jersey.
     "The three facilities provide a unique network on the East Coast of the US from which we can gain valuable measurements on processes that are not well understood,'' said Robert Gagosian, director of WHOI. ``For example, hurricanes in the summer and fall and coastal storms common to the Northeast during the winter season can now be tracked as they develop and move up the East Coast and then out to sea.''
     The Katama Observatory will be a $1.2 million project. The cost will be shared by the National Science Foundation and WHOI, with the institution providing 30 percent of the total cost.
     The project is being headed by scientists Drs. James B. Edson and Wade R. McGillis of the Oceanographic's Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department. Other investigators working on the project are Christopher von Alt, the principal engineer, and scientists Cheryl Ann Butman and John Trowbridge.
     The observatory will consist of a small shore station, located above the highest high tide mark at the Katama Air Park in Edgartown; a 20-foot tall meteorological mast with atmospheric sensors, which will be installed near the Katama Lifeguard House; and two nodes for oceanic senors, located on the ocean floor in about 35 to 50 feet of water.
     The shore station, meteorological mast, and oceanic nodes will be connected with an underground cable, which will run underneath the Katama Air Park runway, Herring Creek, Atlantic Drive, South Beach, and the dunes.
     Data collected from the nodes will include measurements on waves and their direction onshore, the speed and direction of the current, the seawater temperature and salinity, and carbon dioxide concentrations. It also will collect information that will help researchers in their studies of coastal meteorology, air-sea interaction, sediment transport, gas transfer, and benthic biological processes.
     All of this data will be transmitted from the nodes through the cable to a computer located in the shore station. After it is logged into the computer, the information will be available to scientists and engineers at WHOI, students and teachers, and the general public on the Internet.
     "Local officials will be able to use information from the observatory to develop coastal management policies, while wind surfers and sailors may be interested in the wind and wave data for recreation reasons,'' said Dr. Edson.
     "Students on the island, and elsewhere, will be able to participate in a real-time experiment and observe what is happening literally in their own backyard.''

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