Dr. Jonathan Fram, project manager for the Endurance Array, is quoted in this Eos article about the potential implications of the cancellation of the spring cruise to recover and redeploy equipment at the Endurance Array:
With research cruises postponed, scientists are trying to get home safe, and others worry about the fate of their instruments left at sea.
Past Plans Scrapped…
Scientists around the world are scrambling to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. Researchers are shuttering their labs, switching to remote observing on telescopes, and learning to present their work virtually.
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(From The Economist / Technology Quarterly)
From sharks to ice shelves, monsoons to volcanoes, the scope of ocean monitoring is widening.
IN NOVEMBER 2016 a large crack appeared in the Larsen C ice shelf off Antarctica (pictured). By July 2017 a chunk a quarter of the size of Wales, weighing one trillion tonnes, broke off from the main body of the shelf and started drifting away into the Southern Ocean. The shelf is already floating, so even such a large iceberg detaching itself did not affect sea levels. But Larsen C buttresses a much larger mass of ice that sits upon the Antarctic continent. If it breaks up completely, as its two smaller siblings (Larsens A and B) have done over the past 20 years, that ice on shore could flow much more easily into the ocean. If it did so—and scientists believe it would—that ice alone could account for 10cm of sea-level rise, more than half of the total rise seen in the 20th century.
The dynamics of the process, known as calving, that causes a shelf to break up are obscure. That, however, may soon change. Ocean Infinity, a marine-survey firm based in Texas, is due to send two autonomous drones under the Larsen C shelf in 2019, the first subglacial survey of its kind. “It is probably the least accessible and least explored area on the globe,” says Julian Dowdeswell, a glaciologist at the University of Cambridge who will lead the scientific side of the project.
The drones set to explore Larsen C look like 6-metre orange cigars and are made by Kongsberg—the same Norwegian firm that runs the new open-ocean fish farms. Called Hugin, after one of the ravens who flew around the world gathering information for Odin, a Norse god, the drones are designed to cruise precisely planned routes to investigate specific objects people already know about, such as oil pipelines, or to find things that they care about, such as missing planes. With lithium-ion-battery systems about as big as those found in a Tesla saloon the drones can travel at four knots for 60 hours on a charge, which gives them a range of about 400km. Their sensors will measure how the temperature of the water varies. Their sonar—which in this case, unusually, looks upwards—will measure the roughness of the bottom of the ice. Both variables are crucial in assessing how fast the ice shelf is breaking up, says Dr Dowdeswell.
The ability to see bits of the ocean, and things which it contains, that were previously invisible does not just matter to miners and submariners. It matters to scientists, environmentalists and fisheries managers. It helps them understand the changing Earth, predict the weather—including its dangerous extremes—and maintain fish stocks and protect other wildlife. Drones of all shapes and sizes are hoping to provide far more such information than has ever been available before.
That’s why it’s hotter under the water
To this end Amala Mahadevan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts, has been working with the Indian weather agencies to install a string of sensors hanging down off a buoy in the northern end of the Bay of Bengal.
A large bank of similar buoys called the Pioneer Array has been showing oceanographers things they have not seen before in the two years it has been operating off the coast of New England. The array is part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) funded by America’s National Science Foundation. It is providing a three-dimensional picture of changes to the Gulf Stream, which is pushing as much as 100km closer to the shore than it used to. “Fishermen are catching Gulf Stream fish 100km in from the continental shelf,” says Glen Gawarkiewicz of WHOI. These data make local weather forecasting better.
Three other lines of buoys and floats have recently been installed across the Atlantic in order to understand the transfer of deep water from the North Atlantic southwards, a flow which is fundamental to the dynamics of all the world’s oceans, and which may falter in a warmer climate.
Another part of the OOI is the Cabled Array off the coast of Oregon. Its sensors, which span one of the smallest of the world’s tectonic plates, the Juan de Fuca plate, are connected by 900km of fibre-optic cable and powered by electricity cables that run out from the shore. The array is designed to gather data which will help understand the connections between the plate’s volcanic activity and the biological and oceanographic processes above it.
A set of sensors off Japan takes a much more practical interest in plate tectonics. The Dense Oceanfloor Network System for Earthquakes and Tsunamis (DONET) consists of over 50 sea-floor observing stations, each housing pressure sensors which show whether the sea floor is rising or falling, as well as seismometers which measure the direct movement caused by an earthquake. When the plates shift and the sea floor trembles, they can send signals racing back to shore at the speed of light in glass, beating the slower progress of the seismic waves through the Earth’s crust, to give people a few valuable extra seconds of warning. Better measuring of climate can save lives over decades; prompt measurement of earthquakes can save them in an instant.Read More
Wave Broadband is coming out in the open about its partnership with the University of Washington to provide broadband connectivity for the Regional Cabled Array, an undersea observatory that’s part of the federally backed Ocean Observatories Initiative.Read More
(From Los Angeles Times / Deborah Netburn)[media-caption type="image" path="/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/la-1503605996-7r2vw3m985-snap-image.jpg" alt="Zooplankton, including this Euphausia pacifica, spend their days in deep water and rise to the surface to feed at night. They made an extra trip on Monday because they were fooled by the eclipse. (NOAA)" link="#"]Zooplankton, including this Euphausia pacifica, spend their days in deep water and rise to the surface to feed at night. They made an extra trip on Monday because they were fooled by the eclipse. (NOAA)[/media-caption]
We humans weren’t the only life-forms to be affected by the Great American Eclipse on Monday.
Tiny marine creatures known as zooplankton got all mixed up as the sunlight grew increasingly dim along the path of totality.
One hour before the sky went dark, the gradual change in light caused the confused little critters to begin swimming up the water column to start their nighttime feeding routine.
As soon as totality was over and the light levels began to return to normal, however, they realized their mistake and made their way back to the safety of deeper, darker waters.
“They didn’t make it all the way up because the eclipse is only so long,” said Jonathan Fram, the Oregon State University oceanographer who observed them. “It takes them a while to get to the surface.”[media-caption type="image" path="/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/la-1503600552-p3w92ijfjn-snap-image.jpg" alt="This plot shows zooplankton (in green) making an extra trip to the ocean surface (in red) during the eclipse. Normally, they come up to feed only at night. (Jonathan Fram / Ocean Observatories Initiative)" link="#"]This plot shows zooplankton (in green) making an extra trip to the ocean surface (in red) during the eclipse. Normally, they come up to feed only at night. (Jonathan Fram / Ocean Observatories Initiative)[/media-caption]
To measure the movement of the plankton, Fram used bioacuoustic sonar equipment that is stationed off the Oregon coast.
The sonar equipment is part of a larger suite of instruments deployed by the Ocean Observatories Initiative that allows scientists to measure all kinds of oceanic variables, including water temperature, sunlight and air temperature.
Data collected by these instruments show that, overall, ocean animals do not experience the eclipse the same way we do.
On land, creatures in the path of totality felt the temperature drop several degrees as the moon covered the sun. However, the ocean temperature barely budged — even at totality.
On the other hand, the change in light intensity, which humans generally noticed about 15 to 20 minutes before totality, was more obvious to the deep-dwelling zooplankton earlier in the celestial event, Fram said.
“Light level changes quite a bit at depth,” he said. “If you change the surface light just a little bit, it gets noticeably darker to zooplankton.”
He added that his findings are consistent with similar research done during an eclipse in the early 1970s.
“That’s great,” he said. “That’s what we hoped to see.”
Astronomers and physicists capitalized on the total solar eclipse to gather data on the sun, but findings from the ocean were welcome, too.
“That might be my favorite story of the whole eclipse,” said Dan Seaton, a solar physicist at the University of Colorado who was not involved with the research. “It’s sort of adorable, this whole colony of tiny little creatures being like, ‘Oooh, nighttime!’ and then a few minutes later they’re like, ‘Oops.’
“It’s all part of the magic of eclipses,” he added.
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(From Los Angeles Times / Deborah Netburn)
It’s not just humans who will be affected by the Great American Eclipse coming on Aug. 21 — expect animals to act strangely too.
Anecdotal evidence and a few scientific studies suggest that as the moon moves briefly between the sun and the Earth, causing a deep twilight to fall across the land, large swaths of the animal kingdom will alter their behavior.
Eclipse chasers say they have seen songbirds go quiet, large farm animals lie down, crickets start to chirp and chickens begin to roost.
But there is always more to learn, so it should come as no surprise that a few experiments to document animal behavior are in the works for the Great American Eclipse.
Jonathan Fram, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, plans to use a series of bio-acoustic sonars to see whether zooplankton in the path of totality will rise in the water column as the sun is obscured by the moon.
Across the ocean, an enormous number of animals hide in the deep, dark waters during the day, and then swim upward during the cover of night to take advantage of the food generated in the sunlit part of the ocean.
“It’s the biggest migration on the planet, and most of us don’t even know it is happening,” said Kelly Benoit-Bird, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who is not involved with Fram’s study.
Scientists have known for decades that changes in light can affect these animals’ migration patterns. For example, most of these deep-water migrants won’t swim as close to the surface as usual during a full moon. Still, a total eclipse provides an ideal natural experiment that can help researchers learn how important light cues are to different critters, Benoit-Bird said.
Fram, who works on a project known as the Ocean Observatories Initiative, will be able to get data from six bio-acoustic sonars off the Northwest coast — three that are directly in the path of totality and three that are not. This should allow researchers to see how much the sun has to dim to affect changes in the zooplankton’s movements.
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From Lab Manager Magazine (May 8, 2017): There’s a lot going on below the ocean waves off the coast of Oregon and Washington—activity most of us would miss if it weren’t for the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s (OOI’s) Cabled Array.Read More
(From Nautilus / Claudia Geib)
I think that for some people,” says Peter Girguis, a deep-sea microbial physiologist at Harvard University, “the ocean seems passé—that the days of Jacques Cousteau are behind us.” He begs to differ. Even though space exploration, he says, “seems like the ultimate adventure, every time we do a deep sea dive and discover something new and exciting, there’s this huge flurry of activity and interest on social media.” But the buzz soon fizzles out, perhaps because of ineffective media campaigns, he says. But “we’re also not doing a good job of explaining how important and frankly exciting ocean exploration is.”
That might change with the launch, this month, of the Ocean Observatories Initiative, an unprecedented network of oceanographic instruments in seven sites around the world. Each site features a suite of technologies at the surface, in the water column, and on the seafloor. Buoys, underwater cameras, autonomous vehicles, and hundreds of sensors per site will collect data on ocean temperature, salinity, chlorophyll levels, volcanic activity, and much more. Using this set of systems, oceanographers hope to address the limitations imposed by working on a ship or a single site for a limited period of time.[media-caption type="image" path="http://static.nautil.us/9685_274e6fcf4a583de4a81c6376f17673e7.png" alt="Peter Girguis thinks there is still much to be learned in the deep sea. Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln / Harvard News Office" link="#"]OCEAN EXPLORER: Peter Girguis thinks there is still much to be learned in the deep sea. Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln / Harvard News Office[/media-caption]
“What that means is, in general, we’re very good at doing one of two things: studying the ocean spatially, such as studying the same process as you cross an ocean, or temporally, studying one point over time,” says Girguis, “But going back to about 20 years ago, scientists began to say, maybe there’s a way to do both of these better.”
Getting the Initiative off the ground (or, rather, in the water) has taken 10 years and $386 million, and the launch is only the beginning: Operational costs will comprise about a sixth of the National Science Foundation’s annual ocean sciences budget, and the ocean’s tendency to rust metals and fry wiring could lead to higher maintenance costs over time. With data now flowing, the questions that have followed the Initiative’s development are once again bobbing to the surface: Will it work? Will it be useful? And will the millions of dollars that taxpayers have provided be worth their investment?
We sat down with Girguis to talk about the worth of the Ocean Observatories Initiative and its place in modern marine science.
Why haven’t there been many large-scale commitments to ocean science, like this initiative, in recent years?
When they landed a spacecraft on the moon, all they had to do to keep the astronauts at one atmosphere was design a spacecraft that could tolerate one atmosphere of pressure. Outside of the ship it’s simply zero atmospheres—that’s a difference of one. When we dive in the submersible Alvin, routinely, to go to our study sights, Alvin has to withstand 250-300 atmospheres. And the ocean is a harsh environment. Alvin has to battle corrosion, electrical shorts; we have to keep from getting stuck on deep sea corals; and around vents, we have to keep from having the plastic windows—which, yes, they are plastic—from melting in water coming out that’s 300 degrees Celsius.
The fact that this seems routine to us scientists is a tribute to the engineers that make it happen. But the fact that the public thinks it is routine means we scientists should be doing a better job of explaining the adventure of it, and also the deep and profound importance that our ocean has in keeping our planet healthy.
Does having the Ocean Observatories Initiative arrays in only seven places limit what they can tell us about the ocean?
This project is by no means comprehensive. I don’t think anybody would say we are comprehensively studying the ocean. That does not mean that it is meaningless. We have, as a community, tried to judiciously pick sites that could tell us something about the other areas of the ocean. Think of them as good representatives of wider-spread environments.
Additionally, those arrays are, to a degree, moveable assets. They are essentially giant moorings, which in some point in the future could be picked up and moved to another locale. But these seven sites are chosen because they’re good representations of important regions of the ocean—not only for natural scientists but also for applied scientists, like those trying to understand fisheries and fish stocks, and how the ocean responds to humans.
How can researchers use the Initiative’s data in their work?
One example: By co-localizing these sensors, researchers can help monitor when phytoplankton—which make, by the way, half the oxygen you breathe—bloom, and grow to huge numbers. When they do that, it’s not always clear what causes it. By having sensors and samplers co-located, you can start to make correlations that help you identify a cause. And I chose that phrase carefully: Correlations are easy to come by, but it’s only when you have a really good data set that you can really move from a correlation to a cause.
How will the array aid in your research?
I work primarily in the deep sea, at the hydrothermal vents in the Northeastern Pacific off the coast of Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver. By deep sea, I mean the part of the ocean that is perpetually dark, which is 80 percent of our planet’s habitable space. What happens in the deep sea is very much influenced by what happens in the surface waters, because that’s where most of the food in the deep sea comes from. Conversely, we now finally have the data to support some long-standing questions and ideas we had about how processes in the deep sea influence what happens on the surface.
Hydrothermal vents, for example, are a major ocean source of iron and trace minerals. They’re kind of like the ocean’s multivitamin. You don’t need a lot of this stuff, in the same way were not guzzling pounds of iron, but you need just enough to stay healthy. And that’s what hydrothermal vents provide. By studying the processes on the surface, and concurrently studying processes in the deep sea, we can start understanding the ocean as a system, and not as a bunch of compartmentalized ecosystems. I’m excited about using the observatories to look at the linkages among all of these processes—biological, chemical, and physical.
Are you concerned that the high price of the project will lead to fewer exploratory projects?
That is a really big question now. I think scientists owe it to the taxpayers to make best use of these assets, and best use of the money, and to provide an explanation for the value of our work. But the Ocean Observatories Initiative has the potential to bring together different federal and non-government agencies to look at the relationships that we have not previously considered. So, a hypothetical example—as the ocean’s multivitamin, hydrothermal vents could stimulate phytoplankton in the Northeast pacific. How does that influence commercial fisheries, like salmon or tuna? That’s a question nobody really knows the answer to. And it could bring interest from agencies outside of the National Science Foundation, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geologic Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency, even commercial fisheries.
Expand it even further—Google is always interested in providing real-time information on traffic. It’s not unreasonable that commercial entities could make use of some of these systems, to provide information for commercial operations. The question should not be limited to what we can do with our current sensors, but rather: What is it that we’re not doing yet that would change the way we think about our oceans? And, how do we develop the tools and methods to change that? So it’s my hope that the observatories expand well beyond the scope of the National Science Foundation, and well beyond their sole dependence for support.Read More
An Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) inshore surface mooring is deployed in June 2015 off the coast of Newport, Oreg., from Oregon State University’s (OSU) R/V Pacific Storm. In the background, a team on OSU’s R/V Elakha is deploying an OOI underwater glider. Photo Credit: Andy Cripe, Corvallis Gazette-Times
(From EOS, 97) By Robinson W. Fulweiler, Glen Gawakiewicz, and Kristen A. Davis
The coastal ocean provides critical services that yield both ecological and economic benefits. Its dynamic nature, however, makes it a most challenging environment to study. Recently, a better understanding of the coupled physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes that characterize the coastal ocean became more attainable.
Ocean Observatories Initiative systems were fully commissioned as of the end of 2015.
Last January, the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a program of the National Science Foundation (NSF), held a workshop in Washington, D. C., to acquaint potential users with the capabilities offered by the OOI systems, which were fully commissioned as of the end of 2015. A future workshop is planned for this fall on the West Coast.
OOI maintains two coastal ocean arrays: the Pioneer Array in the northwest Atlantic and the Endurance Array in the northeast Pacific. Each has a series of fixed moorings spanning the continental shelf, as well as mobile assets—underwater gliders and propeller-driven autonomous underwater vehicles.
Together, these observatories are capable of resolving coastal ocean processes across a range of temporal and spatial scales. Such data are critical for understanding nutrient and carbon cycling, controls on the abundance of marine organisms, and the effects of long-term warming and extreme weather events.
At the workshop, Jack Barth (Oregon State University) and Glen Gawarkiewicz (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) presented preliminary results of recent studies and data collection efforts, stressing the rapid, ongoing changes in coastal ocean temperatures in the U.S. West and East Coast shelf and slope systems. Other participants discussed connections between physics and water column nutrients, the temporal variability of key shelf currents, and the role of OOI data in assessing biodiversity.
A key outcome of the workshop was the introduction of the OOI data portal, where participants acquired firsthand experience in data querying, plotting, and downloading of OOI data. Additionally, participants had numerous opportunities to provide feedback to the OOI Cyber Infrastructure Team.
Anyone can sign up for an account to gain access to OOI data. These data are now available for plotting on the OOI data portal, and select data streams are also available. These sites will be updated with additional data and downloading formats as they become available.
OOI has entered a new phase of community engagement where scientists and educators are encouraged to use the data, provide feedback on data access ease and quality, and, in the process, expand our understanding of coastal oceans.
NSF program managers from all relevant disciplines expressed their support for the arrays. Additionally, we learned the details of how to submit proposals related to OOI data, and all the proposal submission information is available on the OOI website. Workshop participants also learned about the OOI education portal, which can bring cutting-edge ocean data and ocean science concepts to classrooms and informal science education sites.
The message from NSF was clear—OOI has entered a new phase of community engagement where scientists and educators are encouraged to use these data, provide feedback on data access ease and quality, and, in the process, expand our understanding of coastal oceans. A new era is approaching in which integrated ocean observatories will help stimulate innovative science and educational partnerships at the same time they enhance our ability to understand the changes occurring in our coastal oceans.
Jack Barth and Chris Edwards contributed to the writing of this summary. We thank NSF for sponsoring this workshop and the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System for organizing the event, with a special thanks to Larry Atkinson and Annette DeSilva for their efforts. We also thank the workshop participants and the OOI Cyber Infrastructure Team for their continued work.
—Robinson W. Fulweiler, Department of Earth and Environment and Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, Mass.; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Glen Gawakiewicz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass.; and Kristen A. Davis, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine
Citation: Fulweiler, R. W., G. Gawakiewicz, and K. A. Davis (2016), Ocean Observatories Initiative expands coastal ocean research, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO054187. Published on 20 June 2016.Read More