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The new Laboratory for Ocean Sensing and Observatory System at WHOI will be dedicated Sept. 20. The lab houses four programs developing technologies for ocean observing in real time. WHOI received a grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund the building. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) [ Hide caption ]

New Laboratory Opens at WHOI

'Green' building provides space for ocean observatory initiatives

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Scientists and engineers began moving into the newest laboratory at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in August—a 27,000-square-foot, “green”-designed building that will provide space for major effort to create long-term ocean observatories.

The Laboratory for Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems (LOSOS) will house researchers working on the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a multimillion-dollar effort funded by the National Science Foundation to build and operate networks of moored buoys, undersea cabled networks, sensors, and autonomous underwater vehicles over the coming decades. The OOI networks will provide real-time, 24/7 data to researchers working to understand the intricacies of ocean circulation, chemistry and biology and how these may be changing as Earth’s climate changes. OOI occupies most of the building, including the central high bay, built to accommodate tall buoys and with a 10-ton capacity bridge crane for hoisting them.

Three other programs share the building:

  • The Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO) operations group, which has maintained a cabled underwater ocean-observing facility at the island since 2001.
  • The National Ocean Bottom Seismograph Instrument Pool (OBSIP), which builds seafloor instruments to detect undersea earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and other ground-shaking events.
  • The Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) program, which deploys new robotic underwater labs-in-canisters. ESPs detect microscopic marine organisms, including harmful algae and their toxins, and transmit information in near real time to scientists ashore.

“This new lab building brings the team developing OOI observing systems together under one roof in a beautiful modern building, providing opportunities to interact and share technologies with WHOI staff,” said John Trowbridge, co-head, with Robert Weller, of the WHOI-led portion of OOI.

“It's much more than just having a shiny new building,” said WHOI biologist Heidi Sosik, chief scientist of the MVCO. “Different ocean-observing groups are coming together in one place. We can more easily share ideas and cross-fertilize, and that will make more innovation happen more quickly.”

Room for expanding research

WHOI received an $8.1 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) to fund construction of a new scientific research facility, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. WHOI contributed $4 million. The building’s official opening will take place Sept. 20, 2012, with NIST Deputy Director Willie May attending.

The building, tailored to occupants' specific needs, is WHOI's first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified laboratory. LEED ratings, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, assess buildings for materials and methods that foster human and environmental health. Wide-ranging features in the new lab, designed by Ellenzweig Associates of Cambridge, Mass., contribute to sustainability and efficiency.

The space provides improved working environments and more room for the programs, all of which have outgrown other space at WHOI. Tall external doors will allow fork trucks into lab rooms, and monorail tracks for hoists run along ceilings. A controlled environmental chamber will allow electronics testing in varied temperatures.

All labs have access pathways to the roof for cables that will carry high-bandwidth data via satellite from deployed instruments. And an innovative new operations center room is planned, with support from a private donation, to be lined with screens displaying data streaming from deployed instruments in near real time.

Features designed for OOI include an inventory control room with controlled access and wide internal doors from second floor lab space into the high bay so that fork trucks can lift heavy or large equipment directly to that lab. Upstairs, laminate countertops dissipate static electric charge so engineers working on electronics can avoid inadvertent damage to circuitry; and a 15-foot-long tank will allow instrument ballast tests.

And in the OBS testing lab, a granite floor slab is entirely separated from the rest of the building for testing the seismic instruments without exposure to the vibrations a building produces. "This promises to be quieter, seismically, than the ad-hoc test space that we constructed in a corner of our old lab on the WHOI dock," said geologist John Collins, who leads the OBS group

Efficient and environmentally friendly

The building incorporates efficiencies, from the 95 percent combustion efficiency boilers, to radiant-heat flooring in the high bay, to energy-saving fluorescent lights directed upward for diffuse, eye-friendly illumination.

"We're ending up with a building that is 13 to 14 percent more energy-efficient than a traditional building," said Ernest Charette, WHOI’s director of construction projects.

To address sustainability, WHOI set aside conservation land to offset land disturbances and installed water-sparing landscaping. "Ensuring healthy indoor air quality is an important part of LEED certification," said Charette, and the building's flooring, sealants, adhesives and other materials were selected to minimize volatile organic compounds.

One important feature might even seem mundane: washing. Maintaining observing systems means pulling buoys from the ocean, cleaning off marine growth, and preparing them for re-deployment. The building includes a high-pressure washing station to reclaim, filter, and capture runoff liquid and debris before it seeps into surrounding land.

"The timing of this building couldn't be better," said biology researcher Bruce Keafer, who runs the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) lab, as he planned to move the delicate ESP instruments. "We're ramping up the program and can't wait. We absolutely need the space to do the research that we proposed. My goal is to get moved in and set up, because three new ESPs are likely all arriving at once, and a new postdoctoral scientist coming to work in the new lab in mid-September."

MVCO project manager Janet Fredericks says the team looks forward to being near other ocean observing groups. "There's a different dynamic with continuous observation of the ocean," she said. "On a standard project, you build up to the cruise, put instruments in the ocean, and go get them after three months to find out how they did. In ocean observing projects, data goes out to the world 24/7."

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