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Oceanus Articles


The Engine that Drives Earth

The Engine that Drives Earth

Poets and philosophers have celebrated the timelessness of the land around us for eons, but the solid Earth is actually a very dynamic body. Great tectonic plates are in constant motion at Earth’s surface.

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Voyage to Vailulu’u

It was like a pirate’s treasure map. A dotted line clearly showed the trail, but at the end of it,…

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Seeding the Oceans with Observatories

Seeding the Oceans with Observatories

Ship-borne expeditions have been the dominant means of exploring the oceans in the 20th century. Scientists aboard ships made the observations and gathered the data that confirmed the revolutionary theory of plate tectonics, which demonstrated that the earth is a complex, multi-faceted system that changes over time. But that revelation also exposed a major shortcoming of the ship-based exploratory approach: its very limited ability to quantify change.

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A Well Sampled Ocean

A Well Sampled Ocean

Unlike the oceans, the sky is relatively visible and accessible to us. But in the ocean, the situation is quite different. Conditions and processes at work on any given day in the ocean are usually a mystery to us.

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NEPTUNE: A Fiber-Optic ‘Telescope’ to Inner Space

NEPTUNE: A Fiber-Optic 'Telescope' to Inner Space

NEPTUNE is a proposed system of high-speed fiber- optic submarine cables linking a series of seafloor nodes supporting thousands of assorted measuring instruments, video equipment, and robotic vehicles that could upload power and download data at undersea docks. Unlike conventional telephone cables, which supply power from shore in a straight line, end to end, NEPTUNE would operate like a power grid, distributing power simultaneously and as needed throughout the network. Working much like a campus data network (with nodes analogous to buildings and each instrument like a workstation), NEPTUNE would provide real-time transmission of data and two-way communications.

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Seafloor to Surface to Satellite to Shore

Seafloor to Surface to Satellite to Shore

The next great leap in our understanding of the earth-ocean system will require us to put our “eyes” and “ears” in the ocean to observe the dynamic processes going on there as they are happening, in real time.

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Plugging the Seafloor with CORKs

Plugging the Seafloor with CORKs

Hidden beneath the seafloor throughout most of the world’s oceans lies a massive, dynamic plumbing system that is a central component of our planet’s inner workings.

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Outposts in the Ocean

Oceanographers and climatologists have something in common with politicians and stock market analysts: They are all trying to get a grasp on a complex, ever-shifting system.

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New Coastal Observatory Is Born

New Coastal Observatory Is Born

The Martha’s Vineyard Observatory will have sensors mounted on two seafloor nodes, at depths of about 5 and 15 meters, respectively, connected to a shore station via a buried cable. Instruments mounted on the nodes will continually monitor mean sea and wave heights, current strengths, seawater turbulence, subsurface sediment movement, sunlight intensity, and the temperature, salinity, and carbon dioxide levels of the ocean?s waters.

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Launching the Argo Armada

Launching the Argo Armada

The Argo program proposes to disperse 3,000 floats, like the one below, throughout the oceans to collect data on oceanic conditions that can be periodically transmitted to shore via satellite.

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Putting H2O in the Ocean

Putting H2O in the Ocean

A major obstacle impeding our ability to understand many of the earth’s fundamental, ongoing dynamics–quite frankly–has been a dearth of electrical outlets and phone jacks on the seafloor.

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Where the Surf Meets the Turf

Where the Surf Meets the Turf

The gentle lapping of waves on the beach is a metaphor for enduring tranquility. However, the thin zone where the surf meets the turf is one of the most turbulent, complex, fast-moving, constantly changing places on Earth.

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ALISS in Wonderland

ALISS in Wonderland

In 1985, Cindy Van Dover, then a graduate student in biology in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program, discovered a novel light-sensing organ on a unique species of shrimp that lives at high-temperature, black smoker chimneys on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. If this photoreceptor were indeed some sort of primitive “eye,” the question instantly arose: At depths of some 3,600 meters, where sunlight cannot penetrate, what are these shrimp looking at? The search for a source of light in deep-sea hydrothermal environments began.

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How to Build a Black Smoker Chimney

How to Build a Black Smoker Chimney

Diving along the mid-ocean ridge at 21°N on the East Pacific Rise, scientists within the deep submersible Alvin peered through their tiny portholes two decades ago to see an astonishing sight: Clouds of billowing black “smoke” rising rapidly from the tops of tall rocky “chimneys.”

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Hitting the Hotspots

Hitting the Hotspots

The great volcanic mid-ocean ridge system stretches continuously around the globe for 60,000 kilometers, nearly all of it hidden beneath the world’s oceans.

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Life on the Seafloor and Elsewhere in the Solar System

Life on the Seafloor and Elsewhere in the Solar System

The RIDGE program (Ridge Inter-Disciplinary Globe Experiments) was sharply focused on the global spreading center system, but the program’s goals were broadly defined. RIDGE was designed to explore the causes, consequences, and linkages associated with the physical, chemical, and biological processes that transfer mass and energy from the interior to the surface of the planet along the mid-ocean ridges.

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Deep-Sea Diaspora

Deep-Sea Diaspora

When spectacular biological communities were first discovered at hydrothermal vents in 1977, biologists puzzled over two main questions: How did these oases of large and abundant animals persist in the deep sea, where food is typically scarce? And how did these unusual species, which occur only at vents, manage to colonize new vents and avoid extinction when old vents shut down?

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The Cauldron Beneath the Seafloor

The Cauldron Beneath the Seafloor

Just over 20 years ago, scientists exploring the mid-ocean ridge system first made the spectacular discovery of black smokers—hydrothermal chimneys made of metal sulfide minerals that vigorously discharge hot, dark, particulate-laden fluids into the ocean.

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The Big MELT

The Big MELT

More than 95 percent of the earth’s volcanic magma is generated beneath the seafloor at mid-ocean ridges.

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The Women of FAMOUS

The Women of FAMOUS

My FAMOUS story begins during my first year in graduate school at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

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