Thursday, September 3, 2009

Part of Vast Ocean Observing network will be in Newport

by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian
Wednesday September 02, 2009, 1:20 PM

OSU scientists will build an ocean array of instruments and gliders off the coast of Newport as their part of a $386 million ocean observatory network. Not long after landing the Pacific fleet of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Newport is getting another feather in its cap.

The coast city will soon be home to one piece of a $386 million world-wide ocean observing network announced today.

Oregon State University researchers will spend $14 million over the next five years to create a network of surface moorings, seafloor platforms and undersea gliders in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Newport and Grays Harbor, Wash.

"This project will be transformative in that our ability to observe and monitor the ocean will be constant - 24 hours a day instead of the episodic nature of a week at sea here and there," said Mark Abbott, dean of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

The sites in the Northwest are just one part of a global observation network called the Ocean Observatories Initiative that is essentially a massive infrastructure project to collect data on world's oceans, data that will be used to better understand climate change, tsunamis, ocean acidification and other phenomenons.

This is one of several autonomous underwater gliders that will continuously sample Pacific Northwest ocean waters as part of a new ocean observatory initiative.

The initiative stems from a cooperative agreement between the National Science Foundation and the private Consortium for Ocean Leadership. Construction is scheduled to begin in September with $106 million in taxpayer money from the stimulus bill and another nearly $6 million from the science foundation.

The global network is being led by OSU oceanographer Tim Cowles, who is serving as director of the Ocean Observatories Initiative program office at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

The six observation sites - three off the coast of Newport, three near Grays Harbor- that OSU is responsible for developing will together be called the Endurance Array.

The ocean sites will be connected to a cable that will provide power and high bandwidth communication. That part of the network will be installed by the University of Washington, which is receiving $126 million. The Seattle-based university also plans to build a seafloor observatory on the Juan de Fuca Plate and a shore station near Pacific City.

"It will be like having underwater laboratories at each location," said Robert Collier, an OSU oceanographer and project manager for the array. "One of the limitations of ocean research has been the lack of power and connectivity. That will no longer be a problem."

Consortium for Ocean LeadershipA map of the proposed $386 million Ocean Observatories Initiative announced today.

Collier said the sites will have instruments to measure things like water temperature, salinity and carbon dioxide levels.

"Once we turn this thing on, the data we gather within a year will be staggering, " said Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth. "It will provide information on climate change, ocean biology, winds and currents...on just about everything. We will be able to analyze storms at sea for the first time and actually measure how much carbon dioxide gets washed out from the near-shore to the deep ocean. The possibilities are endless."

Instruments should be in the water by 2012, and the project is designed to last 25 years. Officials said they would work with fishers and coastal communities to determine locations for the moorings required to anchor some of the instruments.

The creation of the sites off the coast of Newport, already home to the Hatfield Marine Science Center and soon to be home to the NOAA research fleet, will add to the city's growing reputation as a research hub.

"It is clear that we are well on the way to achieving a critical mass in oceanic sciences, thanks to the combined effort of the legislature, the governor and the federal government," said State Sen. Betsy Johnson, who chairs the Oregon Coastal Caucus.
-- Matthew Preusch,, Twitter: @mpreusch

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