Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory


What is the Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO)?

The MVCO is a multi-part research observatory located at South Beach on Martha's Vineyard, and in the ocean a mile off the Vineyard's south shore.

It's a place that keeps careful track of the North Atlantic, day and night, every day of the year. "Researchers have staked out a parcel of ocean and are observing it with 24/7 vigilance, with the potential to do so for years," wrote science writer Mike Carlowicz of MVCO. "They can continuously measure what is happening on the sandy ocean bottom, in the water column from the seafloor to the surface, and in the air above it. And they can do it while sitting at their desks. Thanks to the cables, data from the sea are freely available on the Internet in real time to an unlimited number of scientists."

What components comprise MVCO?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution shared the costs to build a small, inland lab, a 10-meter mast with meteorological instruments at the ocean’s edge, and a seafloor node 12 meters below the sea surface and 1.5 kilometers from the shore. Cables connect the sensors at the mast and sea node to computers and communications devices in the shore lab.

In 2002, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) provided support for the design, construction, and deployment of an Air-Sea Interaction Tower (ASIT) about 3 kilometers from Martha’s Vineyard. The tower stands in 15 meters of water and extends 22 meters above the water line into the atmosphere. It is connected through its own fiber-optic cable to the shore lab.

How are data from the observatory used?

Data are used for studying avariety of topics, from coastal erosion to global warming. For example, oceanographer Wade McGillis at WHOI studies the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the ocean, a process at the heart of global warming.

Scientists also use MVCO to quantify how much ozone pollution is being removed from the atmosphere and deposited into the ocean; to examine the effect of ocean waves on air turbulence and eddies; to investigate the processes and factors—including winds, waves, currents, tides, and seafloor topography—that move sand and shape the seafloor around MVCO; to study plankton; and to learn about the dynamic interaction between winds, waves, and ocean-mixing processes as they exchange heat, water, energy, and gases (such as carbon dioxide) between the ocean and atmosphere

How often are data downloaded from the observatory?

Data from the observatory are downloaded from the shore lab every twenty minutes: 5, 25, and 45 minutes after the hour. They are processed to provide burst averaged statistics, with the most current data presented on the MVCO home page.

Who can access and/or use the data provided by MVCO?

Just about anyone interested in oceanography. MVCO provides real time and archived coastal oceanographic and meteorological data for researchers, students, and the general public.


Martha's Vineyard Coastal Observatory Web site

Oceanus magazine