NSF Funds Creation of Offshore Subduction Zone Observatory as part of OOI’s Regional Cabled Array

With support from the US National Science Foundation, the Ocean Observatories Initiative’s (OOI) Regional Cabled Array (RCA) will be expanded to include an Offshore Subduction Zone Observatory on the Cascadia margin. This new addition to the RCA will produce real-time data to help answer fundamental questions about how subduction zone faults work and can enhance existing systems for earthquake and tsunami warning.

The University of Washington (UW) will lead a team that includes Scripps Institution of Oceanography to implement the “Creating an Offshore Subduction Zone Observatory in Cascadia with the Ocean Observatories Initiative Regional Cabled Array” (COSZO) project to add geohazard sensing instruments, including seismic sensors and calibrated seafloor pressure gauges, to the existing NSF-funded Regional Cabled Array. The UW received one of four Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure-1 (Mid-scale RI-1) awards announced by the US National Science Foundation for Fiscal Year 2023-2024.

“The four awardees NSF has selected — the University of Rochester, Iowa State University, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California — exemplify the most novel, innovative infrastructure being designed and built in our country to advance the best ideas and train the highly skilled talent in science and engineering for our future,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “By investing in the most innovative infrastructure, NSF aims to strengthen opportunities for all Americans and advance the frontiers of science and technology.”

Earth’s greatest geological hazards are concentrated in subduction zones. These places where two tectonic plates converge and collide not only produce large-scale earthquakes but suffer from their cascading effects such as devastating tsunamis. The Cascadia subduction zone, spanning the offshore coasts from northern California to British Columbia, hosts earthquakes up to magnitude 9 every few hundred years, the last of which was in 1700.  The RCA currently brings power and internet into the ocean offshore of Newport, Oregon.

Today seismic and geodetic sensor networks on land in the Pacific Northwest can quickly alert authorities to geohazards, but the offshore region, where almost all the locked plate boundary and expected earthquake slip would occur, is largely devoid of such instruments.

“There’s a huge amount of interest in subduction zones, from Sumatra to Chile,” said oceanographer William Wilcock, one of several investigators on this project. “Because of the risks and hazards of subduction zones, the National Science Foundation and others have invested in studies to understand a wide variety of subduction zones because they all behave a bit differently and can have devastating impacts.”

“This award will make it possible for scientists to have a front-row seat of the subduction zone with real-time data from 2900 to 80 meters below the ocean’s surface” said Deborah Kelley, Principal Investigator of the Regional Cabled Array. “It builds upon some of the ideas that motivated the OOI. It clearly demonstrates the opportunities for growth through the RCA’s ability to provide power and unprecedented bandwidth to instruments that are monitoring conditions around the clock on the seafloor and throughout the water column. From this will come important new discoveries about how our planet works.”

“We are excited by the addition of COSZO to the Regional Cabled Array,” said Jim Edson, who leads OOI’s Program Office at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “The data made available from COSZO via NSF’s Seismological Facility for the Advancement of Geoscience, will help scientists and engineers understand the hazards from earthquakes and tsunamis, with the potential for improvement of early warning systems, which can ultimately help save human lives. “

A story about the COSZO project can be found here.


The Ocean Observatories Initiative is a science-driven ocean observing network that delivers real-time data from more than 900 instruments to address critical science questions regarding the world’s oceans. The National Science Foundation has funded the OOI, under Cooperative Agreement No. 1743430, to encourage scientific investigation. OOI data are freely available online to anyone with an Internet connection.

The U.S. National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports science and engineering in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.



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