Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The 5000m-deep network of hi-tech sensors that will finally allow us to see beneath the sea

From Daily Mail Online: The 5000m-deep network of hi-tech sensors that will finally allow us to see beneath the sea
Researchers have completed the latest tests on a revolutionary undersea network of hi-tech sensors that could change oceanography forever - and capture new visions of events such as volcanic eruptions deep beneath the waves.

A team using special robots spent three weeks examining the nodes which have been put 5,000 metres under the water’s surface off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

They took pictures of the cables and the sensors to make sure they were in place and that the project remains on track.

Once it is completed the Ocean Observatories Initiative's underwater array will provide the most comprehensive survey of the sea ever made.

It will enable researchers to measure changes to the ocean’s chemical, biological, physical and geological processes - all at the same time.

Such a network is a huge technological shift away from ship-based research. And once it is up and running the data will be streamed on the Internet allowing other scientists and members of the public to view it in real time.
The latest tests involved sending a 274-foot research vessel called Thomas G Thompson 5,000 metres down to study the progress of the array.

It is located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon and when completed will have 16 sensors to study the sea bed and 17 going up to the surface.

Among the instruments will be a hydrophone to monitor wave movement, a seismometer to track tectonic plate movements, high definition cameras and even a DNA sampler.

The nodes will also have a sampler to monitor things like water acidity and will be linked to the ships on the surface via Internet ‘routers’ which broadcast the data.

Until now mankind has had to send manned submersibles to the depths in order to study them, but they can only remain there for a short period of time.

Sensors on satellites, another option, cannot go very far below the surface.

The undersea network by contrast has already filmed a volcano that erupted last spring at Axial Seamount off the coast of Oregon.

It has also taken pictures of a huge field of underwater ‘snowblowers’, which are created by lava flows and show where microbial life has been living.

The project, which has so far cost $153million, is scheduled to go live in 2014 and will produce data 24 hours a day for at least 25 years.

It is being funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation which has posted videos of the research on its Visions’ 11 website.

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