Tuesday, September 18, 2007

'Bringing the Ocean to the World,' in High-Def

Under a $331 million program long dreamed of by oceanographers and being financed by the National Science Foundation, Professor Delaney and a team of scientists from several other institutions are leading the new Ocean Observatories Initiative, a multifaceted effort to study the ocean — in the ocean — through a combination of Internet-linked cables, buoys atop submerged data collection devices, robots and high-definition cameras. The first equipment is expected to be in place by 2009.

Researchers will be able, for example, to assemble a year’s worth of daily data on deep ocean temperatures in the Atlantic or track changes in currents as a hurricane nears the Gulf of Mexico. And schoolchildren accustomed to dated graphics and grainy shark videos will only have to boot up to dive deep in high definition. “It’ll all go on the Internet and in as real time as possible,” said Alexandra Isern, the program director for ocean technology at the National Science Foundation. “This is really going to transform not only the way scientists do science but also the way the public can be involved.”

In the Northwest, about $130 million of the initiative’s cost is being dedicated to build a regional observatory, a series of underwater cables that will crisscross the tectonic plate named for the explorer Juan de Fuca. Rather than provide an information superhighway that bypasses the ocean, this new network is being put in place to take its pulse. Professor Delaney, whose specialty is underwater volcanoes that form at the seams between tectonic plates and the surprising life those seams support, is among those who have been pursuing the cable network for more than a decade, overcoming hurdles of money, technology and skepticism.
We know less about what goes on in the deep ocean then we do about Mars. As long as this is the case, I think we should fund underwater research at the same level we do NASA. This is a great step in that direction.

I like the idea of replacing humans in the field with robots and fiber optic cables. I am also excited about the prospect of an HD hydrothermal vent TV channel (as that may be where life on Earth originated and there might be more biomass there than on the rest of the Earth combined). If CSPAN gets two channels, this deserves at least one.

via NY Times

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