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Ocean Observatories

Citizens, sailors, and scientists have observed the seas for centuries, first from the shore, then from ships and submersibles, and recently from satellites. Along the way, scientists and engineers learned that they could sometimes leave instruments in the ocean, secured by wires, buoys, weights, and floats. Each new attempt has advanced our understanding of the ocean system and its interaction with the rest of the planet.

The next big leap will take the form of ocean observatories—suites of instruments and sensors with long-term power supplies and permanent communications links that can feed data to scientific laboratories in real-time.

Motivated by advances in computing, telecommunications, and marine architecture, researchers no longer want to just observe the ocean for short periods in small places. They are thinking big—tectonic plate big, ocean basin big, global system big—and long-term.

Ocean observatories are designed to ask fundamental questions about how the planet works. They will use novel technologies and techniques such as satellite communications, acoustic modems, and fiber-optic cables stretching hundreds of miles across the seafloor to ask questions of the planet that cannot be posed by short-term expeditions.

Ocean scientists plan to maintain their observations over months and years to study how the Earth, ocean, and atmosphere evolve and interact. They want to ask questions that cross scientific boundaries, such as how ocean chemistry affects biology or how the geology on the seafloor affects the physics of flowing water.

Observatories will allow scientists to adjust their experiments and talk to their instruments from hundreds of miles away in shore-based laboratories. This capability will also allow researchers to share what they learn in real-time with scientific colleagues, policymakers, educators, students, and the public.

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News & Insights

Can seismic data mules protect us from the next big one?

Ocean scientists leverage game-changing technologies to improve our understanding of the global ocean’s most dangerous earthquake faults and enable more advanced warnings for seismic risk.

Gift enables new investments in ocean technologies

A grant from the Coleman and Susan Burke Foundation has allowed WHOI to make crucial investments in remote technology that enhance research innovation at sea. New video monitors aboard the R/V Neil Armstrong will allow scientists and crew to video conference throughout the ship or with colleagues on shore. The Burke Foundation also funded three projects making use of novel data streams from the Ocean Observatories Initiative and field test a wave-powered platform that enables remote communications with autonomous underwater vehicles.

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News Releases

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WHOI in the News

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From Oceanus Magazine

Life at the Edge

What makes the shelf break front such a productive and diverse part of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean? A group of scientists on the research vessel Neil Armstrong spent two weeks at sea in 2018 as part of a three-year, NSF-funded project to find out.

Ocean Observatories Initiative

Sailors and scientists have gone to sea for centuries to unravel the inner workings of the watery region that covers…

Aqua Incognita

There is a jar of money in the conference room of the Mooring Operations & Engineering (MOE) team at Woods…

Pinocchio’s Nose

It took only a month for the new Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) to reveal insights about shifting ocean circulation patterns…

The Young Woman and the Sea

Meghan Donohue always wanted a career in oceanography. She earned an undergraduate degree in physical oceanography from the University of…