Saturday, July 4, 2009

Undersea labs will be accessible online

Keeping watch on the planet from the bottom up
A new series of deep-sea observatories, developed by Canadian researchers, will allow submarine science to get an unprecedented view and report back via the undersea Internet.

The Globe and Mail: This summer, a pair of research vessels will seek out a slim cable buried two years ago on the seabed 300 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island... This high-voltage, high-bandwidth line will plug into a series of 13-tonne deep-sea observatories. Once again, Canada is connecting to leading-edge communications technology.

'We are wiring the oceans,' says Chris Barnes, program director of NEPTUNE Canada. From probing the shifting Juan de Fuca Plate to exploring secret whale superhighways, reserachers from 12 Canadian universities, led by the University of Victoria, will share the wealth of intelligence. 'We're on the front end of a revolution.'...

The backbone of the project is the 800-kilometre loop of undersea cable, carrying power and data for hundreds of unmanned subaquatic laboratories that carry equipment for listening, sampling and measuring what goes on in the deeps. The cable can carry 10 billion bits of data per second -- information that will be publicly accessible over the Internet by November...

The research potential ranges from the micro -- examining grains of sediment to chart the evolution of gas hydrates -- to the macro -- recording pressures on the seabed to improve tsunami warnings... 'What this does is transform ocean science, ' says Dr. Barnes... 'There's something important about being there all the time,' Dr. [Mairi] Best says. From tube worms to mighty whales, there are tales to tell...

Dr. Barnes likens this advance to the launch of the Sputniks -- the first human-made objects to orbit the earth. 'I can remember when the Sputniks went up in my youth. Now, with all the satellites in space, you and I can Google our home as it looks from the street or watch Hurricane Katrina in real time. It has transformed the way we look at our planet because we can look down. Now we're having this ability to look up at our planet through the sea.'
Image from G&M interactive graphics.