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Tools & Technology


Seeding the Seafloor with Observatories

Seeding the Seafloor with Observatories

Scientists extend their reach into the deep with pioneering undersea cable networks

H2O (Hawaii-2 Observatory) – In 1998, scientists used the remotely operated vehicles (ROV) Jason and Medea to create the pioneering long-term seafloor observatory called H2O (Hawaii-2 Observatory). They spliced an abandoned submarine telephone cable into a termination frame. The frame relays power and communications to a junction box, which serves as an electrical outlet for scientific instruments.

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New Hybrid Vehicle Will Enable U.S. Scientists to Reach Deepest Parts of the World Ocean Floor

For the first time since 1960, US scientists will be able to explore the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, up to seven miles below the surface, with a novel underwater vehicle capable of performing multiple tasks in extreme conditions. Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are developing a battery-powered underwater robot to enable scientists to explore the ocean’s most remote regions up to 11,000 meters (36,000-feet) deep.

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Geological Tool Helps Scientists Map the Interior of the Ocean

A new application of a decades-old technique to study Earth’s interior is allowing scientists “see” the layers in the ocean, providing new insight on the structure of ocean currents, eddies and mixing processes. The findings, reported in this week’s Science by a team from the University of Wyoming and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), could be a major step forward in the ability to remotely survey the interior of the ocean.

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Construction Begins on WHOI’s New Coastal Vessel

With the press of a computer button and the plasma cutting of a sheet of aluminum, construction began earlier this month on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) new 60-foot coastal vessel at Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, Duclos Corporation in Somerset, MA. The $1.6 million vessel is scheduled for delivery in March 2004.

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Offshore Air-Sea Interaction Tower Expands Research Capabilities of the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and their colleagues will gain critical environmental information from the Air-Sea Interaction Tower (ASIT) being built off the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard. Construction of the tripod-shaped tower began in August and is expected to be completed in late September. The tower will be linked to the Institution’s Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO), which was built and installed several years ago off South Beach near the Katama Airfield.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Ocean Seismic Network Seafloor Observatories

Ocean Seismic Network Seafloor Observatories

Our knowledge of the physical characteristics of Earth’s deep interior is based largely on observations of surface vibrations that occur after large earthquakes. Using the same techniques as CAT (Computer Aided Tomography) scans in medical imaging, seismologists can “image” the interior of our planet. But just as medical imaging requires sensors that surround the patient, seismic imaging requires sensors surrounding the earth.

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“What a Year!”

"What a Year!"

Four technologies that have been developing separately for some time were brought together this year by WHOI’s Deep Submergence Laboratory (DSL) to serve three very different user communities. With images from the towed vehicle Argo II and the remotely operated vehicle Jason, DSL scientists and engineers created mosaic images of a sunken British cargo ship and 20-meter-tall hydrothermal vent chimneys, both in the Pacific Ocean, and ancient shipwreck sites in the Mediterranean. The three expeditions thus served the marine safety, scientific, and archaeological communities.

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Replacing the Fleet

Replacing the Fleet

When R/V Atlantis arrived in Woods Hole for the first time on a bright, beautiful April 1997 day, it represented not only a welcome addition to the WHOI fleet but also the culmination of a 15-year UNOLS fleet modernization.

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WHOI and Access to the Sea

WHOI and Access to the Sea

In the mid-term future, two WHOI ships (Knorr in about 2006 and Oceanus in about 2009) will reach the end of their planned service lives. There is general agreement that WHOI should work to replace them with two vessels.

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A Northern Winter

A Northern Winter

As the 1996-1997 ship schedule began to take shape in 1995, we learned that Voyage 147 would take R/V Knorr into the North Atlantic from October ’96 through March of ’97. The various science missions would require station keeping during CTD casts, deployment of current drifters, and expendable bathythermograph (XBT) launches, as well as weather system analysis designed to put Knorr in the path of the harshest weather conditions possible during the winter season. Long before the cruise, we began to tap all available assets that would help us with this challenge.

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Access to the Sea

Access to the Sea

Oceanographic fieldwork has traditionally meant going to sea on a ship. In recent years, it has expanded to include activities that may require a ship for a short period but then continue independently. Floats that drift with ocean currents, periodically reporting their positions via satellite, for example, are generally launched from ships but do most of their work independently. Long-term seafloor observatories may need ships to set them up and service them occasionally, but, again, they are designed to collect data for long periods without needing a ship. We have come to think of the body of ways oceanographers glean information from the ocean as “access to the sea,” and so that is the topic for this issue of Oceanus.

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The Magnetic Thickness of a Recent Submarine Lava Flow

The Magnetic Thickness of a Recent Submarine Lava Flow

Submarine lava flows and their associated narrow feeder conduits known as dikes constitute the basic building blocks of the upper part of the ocean crust. We are only beginning to understand how lava erupts and forms on the seafloor by flooding topographic lows, flowing through channels or tubes, centralizing into volcanoes, or some combination of all of these.

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