New Ocean Observatories Usher in Unprecedented Investigations


Ships have been used for centuries to investigate the oceans and their behavior. Unfortunately, expeditions to specific places for limited times are poorly suited to understanding variability and properties over long periods.

New platforms, modern sensors, low-power digital electronics and high-speed communications in the form of permanent observatories now allow measurements for extended periods and provide a constant scientific presence in the oceans. The National Science Foundation's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction program, now termed ORION (Ocean Research Interactive Observatory Networks), is an important new approach to oceanography that will enhance its reliance on ships for ocean observations.

Among the phenomena that permanent observatories can study are climate variability and volcanic activity. Presentations at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Oceans Sciences meeting in Portland, Ore. (session OS32E) and a corresponding press conference outline recent progress in the development of scientific research observatories for extending current knowledge into this domain.

"Oceanographers have studied the ocean for centuries using ships, but (ships) are severely limited in what they can tell us about Earth, including its oceans and atmosphere," said John Orcutt, a press conference participant and deputy director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

"A ship makes a short visit to a specific place. While this has led to great discoveries, such observations tell us little about how the ocean is changing.

"The ORION project represents a major change in understanding the oceans-a permanent presence in the oceans that allows us to observe and understand changes and transient characteristics. We've never explored the oceans in the dimension of time before and ORION represents a real sea change in the way oceanographers work," Orcutt said.

Press Conference Participants:
· Rex Andrew, engineer, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington,
Seattle, Washington;
· Richard Dewey, professor, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria,
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada;
· Tommy Dickey, professor, Ocean Physics Laboratory, University of California, Santa
Barbara, Goleta, California;
· Patricia Fryer, professor, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, University of
Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii;
· John Orcutt, professor of geophysics, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics,
University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California.

General information about the 2004 AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting, including
access to abstracts and session information: # # #
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