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OOI Embarks on New Era of Ocean Observing

The Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) will construct a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor. Greater knowledge of these variables is vital for improved detection and forecasting of environmental changes and their effects on biodiversity, coastal ecosystems and climate.

The ocean is the planet’s largest ecosystem. It drives an incredible range of natural phenomena, including our climate, and thus directly impacts human society. New approaches are crucial to bettering our scientific understanding of episodic and long-term changes at work in our oceans. Resolving pressing issues related to climate variability, severe weather, ocean turbulent mixing, changes in ocean ecosystems, plate tectonics and sub-seafloor chemistry and biology depend upon these new approaches. The OOI’s goal is to install transformational technology in ocean observatories where it can serve researchers, policymakers and the public.

Building on last century’s era of ship-based expeditions, recent technological leaps have brought us to the brink of a sweeping transformation in our approach to ocean research – the focus on expeditionary science is shifting to a permanent presence in the ocean. The ocean itself presents major obstacles to oceanographic exploration. We cannot live in it or even visit for long. We cannot see through it, nor probe effectively with satellites. But new tools permanently installed in our oceans can communicate instantly with scientists on land. They require less power and can carry out user commands or complex pre-programmed instructions; the tools can provide long-term, continuous and real-time understanding of critical ocean phenomena.

Advanced ocean research and sensor tools represent a significant improvement over past techniques. Remotely operated and autonomous vehicles go deeper and perform longer than submarines. Underwater samplers do in minutes what used to take hours in a lab. Telecommunications cables link experiments directly to office computers and supply unparalleled power. Farther asea, satellite uplinks shuttle buoy data at increasing rates.

With these advances the OOI will improve the rate and scale of ocean data collection, and its networked observatories will focus on global, regional and coastal science questions. They will also provide platforms to support new kinds of instruments and autonomous vehicles.

The OOI, a project funded by the National Science Foundation, is planned as a networked infrastructure of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables in the ocean and seafloor. The OOI will be one fully integrated system collecting data on coastal, regional and global scales. The OOI Program is managed and coordinated by the OOI Project Office at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, in Washington, D.C., and is responsible for construction and initial operations of the OOI network.  Three major Implementing Organizations are responsible for construction and development of the overall program. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and its partners, Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are responsible for the coastal and global moorings and their autonomous vehicles. The University of Washington is responsible for cabled seafloor systems and moorings. The University of California, San Diego, is implementing the cyberinfrastructure component. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, with its partners University of Maine and Raytheon Mission Operations and Services, is responsible for the education and public engagement software infrastructure.

After more than 10 years of planning, construction of the observatory network is now underway. We invite you to join us as we embark on a new era of ocean observing.