CORVALLIS, Ore. – The National Science Foundation announced that it has awarded a coalition of academic and oceanographic research organizations a five-year, $220 million contract to operate and maintain the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).
The coalition, led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, with direction from the NSF and guidance from the OOI Facilities Board, will include the University of Washington, Oregon State University, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
The OOI is an advanced system of integrated, scientific platforms and sensors that measure physical, chemical, geological, and biological properties and processes from the seafloor to the sea surface in key coastal and open-ocean sites of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The facility was designed to address critical questions about the Earth-ocean system, including climate change, ecosystem variability, ocean acidification, plate-scale seismicity and submarine volcanoes, and carbon cycling with the goal of better understanding the ocean and our planet. All OOI data are freely available online.
Each institution will continue to operate and maintain the portion of OOI assets for which it is responsible: Woods Hole will operate the Pioneer Array off the Northeast U.S. coast and the Global Arrays in the Irminger Sea off the southern tip of Greenland and at Station Papa in the Gulf of Alaska; Washington will operate the Regional Cabled Array that extends across the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and overlying ocean; Oregon State will operate the Endurance Array off the coast of Washington and Oregon; and Rutgers will operate the cyberinfrastructure system that ingests and delivers data for the initiative. In addition, Woods Hole will serve as the home of a new OOI Project Management Office.
“We at NSF are proud of our continuing investment in 24/7 streaming data from the ocean and coupled earth systems,” said William Easterling, NSF assistant director for Geosciences. “From underwater volcanoes to ocean currents, OOI enables cutting-edge scientific discoveries and makes big data accessible to classrooms at all levels. These data are key to addressing everyday challenges, such as better storm predictions and management of our coastal resources.”
The OOI officially launched in 2009, when NSF and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership signed a cooperative agreement to support the construction and initial operation of OOI’s cabled, coastal, and global arrays. The launch represented the culmination of work begun decades earlier, when ocean scientists in the 1980s envisioned a collection of outposts in the ocean that would gather data around the clock, in real- and near-real time for years on-end and enhance the scientific community’s ability to observe complex oceanographic processes that occur and evolve over time scales ranging from seconds to decades and spatial scales ranging from inches to miles.
The initiative supports more than 500 autonomous instruments on the seafloor and on moored and free-swimming platforms that are serviced during regular, ship-based expeditions to the array sites. Data from each instrument is transmitted to shore, where it is freely available to users worldwide, including members of the scientific community, policy experts, decision-makers, educators, and the general public.
“The arrays of the Ocean Observatories Initiative are transforming how we study the ocean, providing data on critical coastal and global processes at unprecedented scales,” said Roberta Marinelli, dean of Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, which will manage data and maintain instrumentation along the Endurance Array off the central coast of Oregon.
As part of the Endurance Array, OSU manages seven surface moorings off Newport, Oregon, and Grays Harbor, Washington, which monitor several meteorological measurements, including wind speed, solar radiation, air temperature and rainfall. The moorings also collect oceanographic data, including water temperature, salinity and chemical measurements – oxygen, nitrogen, pH and carbon dioxide levels, which inform researchers on the state of ocean acidification and hypoxia.
Biological sensors measure chlorophyll levels and dissolved organic material, which are important indicators for marine productivity. Bioaccoustic measurements, using “backscatter” from sound waves, document the presence of plankton and small fish.
The Northwest region of the Pacific Ocean is a focal point for scientists because of emerging issues including hypoxia and marine "dead zones," climate change impacts, subduction zone earthquakes, tsunamis, harmful algal blooms, wave energy potential, ocean acidification and dramatic variations in some upwelling-fed fisheries.
“Every year we’re seeing something different in the Pacific,” said Ed Dever, OSU Endurance Array principal investigator. “The variability in our ocean is staggering.”
Jack Barth, lead scientist on the Endurance Array construction and head of OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative, said the new instrumentation is a “game-changer” for scientists. “Unlike shipboard technology, OOI instruments are out there constantly monitoring the oceans,” Barth said. “We will be better able to monitor emerging hypoxia threats, plankton blooms, ocean acidification and other threats to our near-shore ocean.”
About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS): The college is renowned for research excellence and academic programs that span the earth, ocean and climate sciences, as well as the human dimensions of environmental change. CEOAS inspires scientific solutions for Oregon and the world.