Measurements Below the Surface

Strong winds and large waves in remote ocean locations don’t deter the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) from collecting measurements in spite of such extreme conditions. By moving the moorings below the surface, the OOI is able to secure critically important observations at sites such as the Global Station Papa Array in the Gulf of Alaska, and the Global Irminger Sea Array, south of Greenland. These subsurface moorings avoid the wind and survive the waves, making it possible to collect data from remote ocean regions year-round, providing insights into these important hard-to-reach regions.

Instrumentation on the surface mooring in the Irminger Sea, however, has nowhere to hide and the measurements they provide are also often crucial for investigations, such as net heat flux estimates.  Providing continuous information about wind and waves remains one of the most challenging aspects of OOI’s buoy deployments in the Irminger Sea. Fortunately, with each deployment, OOI is improving the survivability of the surface mooring so they continue to add to the valuable data collected in the region by their subsurface counterparts.

The top sphere of a Flanking Mooring being deployed through the R/V Neil Armstrong’s A-Frame. Credit: Sawyer Newman©WHOI.

Below the surface in the Irminger Sea

A team of 15 OOI scientists and engineers spent the month of July in the Irminger Sea aboard the R/V Neil Armstrong, recovering and deploying three subsurface moorings there, along with other array components. The Irminger Sea is one of the windiest places in the global ocean and one of few places on Earth with deep-water formation that feeds the large-scale thermohaline circulation. Taking measurements in this area is critical to better understanding changes occurring in the ocean.

OOI’s Irminger Sea Array also provides data to an international sampling effort called OSNAP (Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic) that runs across the Labrador Sea (south of Greenland), to the Irminger and Iceland Basins, to the Rockall Trough, west of Wales. The OOI subsurface Flanking Moorings form a part of the OSNAP cross-basin mooring line with additional instruments in the lower water column. During this current expedition, the Irminger Team will be recovering and deploying OSNAP instruments that are included as part of the OOI Flanking moorings, in addition to turning several OSNAP moorings as well.

The Flanking Mooring top float in the water during deployment. The sensors mounted in the sphere will measure conductivity, temperature, fluorescence, dissolved oxygen and pH at 30 m depth. Credit: Sawyer Newman©WHOI.

The triangular array of moorings in the Irminger Sea provide data that resolve horizontal variability, how much the physical aspects of the water (temperature, density, currents) and its chemical properties (salinity, pH, oxygen content) change over the distance between moorings. The individual moorings resolve vertical variability – the change in properties with depth. Three of these moorings are entirely underwater, with no buoy on the surface. They do have, however, multiple components that are buoyant to keep the moorings upright in the water column.

The mid-water sphere holds an ADCP instrument which will measure a profile of water currents from 500 m depth to the sea surface. Photo Credit: Sawyer Newman©WHOI.

Each subsurface mooring has a top sphere at 30 m depth, a mid-water sphere at 500 m depth, and back-up buoyancy at the bottom to ensure that the mooring can be recovered if any of the other buoyant components fail. Instruments are mounted to the mooring wire to make measurements throughout the water column.

Glass balls in protective “hard hats” provide extra flotation at the bottom of the mooring. Their tennis ball yellow color looks almost fluorescent in the brief (and much enjoyed) sunshine. Photo Credit: Sheri N. White©WHOI.