Hooking the Ocean Up to the Intertubes

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Oceanographers and marine biologists will tell you that one of the main challenges they face when conducting research aboard a ship is obtaining all the data and visuals they need without an Internet connection. Well, no more: a new joint U.S.-Canadian project, dubbed NEPTUNE, has just laid down submarine fiber-optic cables in the Pacific Ocean as a first step in its objective to create the world's first wired ocean observatory. Its Canadian division, NEPTUNE Canada, plans on hooking up hundreds of oceanographic instruments to the Internet with the help of a 500-mile (800 km) long fiber-optic cable that will encircle the northern Juan de Fuca tectonic plate. Scientists expect it to be up and running by late 2008.

The more than 200 instruments will include underwater microphones, nutrient sensors, video cameras, seismometers and wave sensors — all of which will provide a continuous stream of data to Vancouver Island's Port Alberni Shore Station. "This is a fundamental revolution giving us a direct connection to the seafloor... the ocean will no longer control our ability to study it," said Marcia McNutt, president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), which has built a short undersea cable — MARS — to act as a test bed for the instruments being deployed by NEPTUNE Canada.Because marine scientists had previously been limited by the amount of data they could collect — at best getting only brief snapshots of the oceans — many are predicting that these new capabilities will usher in a wave of exciting and unique findings that could revolutionize the research field. Steve Etchemendy, the senior scientist heading up the MARS operations, hopes that these tools will yield a treasure trove of data on one of the most difficult regions to study — the polar areas. "Our polar areas are the canaries in the coalmine for global change and the ability to actually put oceanographic observatories both in the north polar and south polar areas would be fantastic," he said.

Via ::National Geographic News: New Undersea Cable Will Link Ocean to Internet (news website)

See also: ::Mother Jones Presents Ocean Voyager, ::Searching for New Life in the Ocean Depths
Image courtesy of National Geographic

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