|By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
It is already being heralded
as possibly the most sophisticated coastal and ocean observatory on the
East Coast. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution unveiled plans this
week to construct a $1.2 million facility at South Beach at Katama that
will provide scientists with 24-hour monitoring of the ocean and its interaction
with the coast.
Members of the Edgartown
conservation commission and park commission have already given favorable,
though not formal, support to the project. There will be underwater and
above-water measuring devices extending into the ocean. Video camera equipment
atop a 20-foot mast, along with weather measuring equipment, will look
out over the water. The mast will stand next to the town-owned old Donnelly
house, amid the dunes.
While formal permits need
to be filed and approved by the town and state, the lead scientist heading
the project said construction of the facility could begin after Labor Day
"The observatory will collect
information 24 hours a day for studies of coastal meteorology, air-sea
interaction, sediment transport, benthic biological process and gas transfer,"
said Shelley Lauzon, a spokesman for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
(WHOI). "This project is a collaboration of scientists and engineers at
the institution and is headed by scientists James Edson and Wade R. McGillis.
Scientists from the National Science Foundation are participants.
"The observatory will be
barely visible to the public since much of the hardware will be offshore
and all cables will be underground," said the spokesman.
Mr. McGillis, 33, said the
idea for the facility began two years ago. Martha's Vineyard has always
been an ideal place for the world-recognized oceanographic organization
to do various projects. In the past, the Edgartown Harbor Association hired
WHOI scientists to study the water quality of Edgartown inner harbor. The
institution's scientists have been involved in looking at Sengekontacket,
Edgartown Great Pond and Squibnocket Pond. This is the first time Woods
Hole scientists will turn their instruments from the Island toward the
"Woods Hole doesn't have
the southern exposure to the ocean you do on the Vineyard," Mr. McGillis
said. "You have the wind, you have the beach erosion. Nantucket is too
far away. If there is a problem with the equipment, I want my students
to be able to take the ferry over to the Vineyard and drive to the beach,"
"Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution is a neighbor to Martha's Vineyard. The coastline is really
dynamic. This is a unique spot, facing southward. That is where you get
the brunt of ocean storms," Mr. McGillis said. Scientists also want to
observe sea water temperature and levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean,
possible indicators of global warming. "We want to study the interaction
between the ocean and the atmosphere," he said.
There are only two other
facilities on the East Coast that come close to what is being designed
for the Vineyard. One is located in New Jersey and the other is in North
Carolina. There are offshore buoys that continuously report weather and
sea conditions. The proposed observatory will include live video imagery
and data that will be easily accessible to anyone with a computer connected
to the Internet. Among the project goals, he said: "I want to capture a
hurricane." There is still much to be learned about the ocean and its interaction
with the shoreline, he said, and scientists are especially interested in
observing a northeaster.
The equipment will be underground
and not attached to the Donnelly house, because Mr. McGillis observed that
in past storms, waves have moved the old house.
A statement by WHOI said:
"The shore station, meteorological mast, and oceanic nodes will be connected
together with underground cable that will be placed beneath the airfield
runway, under Herring Creek, Atlantic Drive, the dunes and South Beach.
. . . Data from all sensors will be transmitted via the cable from the
nodes to a computer on the shore station [located at the Katama Airfield],
where it will be logged continuously."
Jane M. Varkonda, Edgartown
conservation agent and a member of the town park commission, said the town
permitting departments are looking favorably at the project, although no
formal application process has yet begun. "The park commission has approved,
though we need more details," she said. "The conservation commission has
looked at it. They [WHOI] do have to go through a formal permit process."
The state Department of
Environmental Management owns South Beach and will need to review the project
too. Mrs. Varkonda said environmental permits will be required because
the scientists want to bury wiring. She said the institution also needs
approvals from the Katama Airfield commission and The Nature Conservancy,
which jointly manage the land.
Mr. McGillis said he envisions
the Island elementary schools being invited to participate in the scientific
work of the station. "We are anxious to work with the community to see
this project go through," he said.