Package Delivered

The ocean is extremely large. It covers about 70% of the Earth's surface, and is largely unexplored. However, some portions of the ocean are visited more often than others, sometimes repeatedly. The coastal ocean provides us with the vast majority of the seafood we eat, and fishermen have specific areas where they cast their trawl nets, crab pots, or longlines. Much of the information about the changing properties of the ocean that the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) will be collecting will be of value to fishermen and others who use the ocean, but in order to collect it we need to place our sensors in spots that won't be in the way or in danger of being hit by trawl nets or crab pots.

That was the impetus for developing the Benthic Experiment Package, or BEP. It contains eight different scientific instruments (to measure salinity, temperature, pressure, oxygen, optical attenuation, water currents, pH, pCO2, and acoustic noise) inside a tough yellow housing that will (ideally) protect them from impacts. The BEP is connected to the same seafloor network as the instruments at Axial Seamount and Hydrate Ridge, but it is focused mainly on providing a long-term record of changes in the ocean chemistry and currents along the Oregon coast. By combining data from the BEP and the nearby profiler moorings (and robotic submarines called "gliders"), we can create a time-series record of many ocean features and compare it to data from nearby instruments and other portions of the OOI to learn more about the coastal ocean in general. And that data, along with all OOI data, will be available to anyone with Internet access who wants to learn more about the ocean, no matter where they live or what they do.

Today was an especially exciting day for the Endurance Array, which is the Oregon State portion of the OOI. Today we delivered the Benthic Experiment Package to the seafloor and connected it to the nearby low-voltage node that will provide power and help stream the data back to shore through the seafloor cable. A small team of engineers, scientists, and technicians have spent years designing, building, testing, and refining the BEP and they were all glued to the video feed from the ROPOS ROV as it delivered the BEP to the Endurance Offshore site, plugged it in, and made sure all the parts were ready for collecting data. The hydrophone was moved away from the BEP so that it would be less likely to pick up noise from the other instruments, doors were closed to protect the sensors, electrical cables, and junction box inside, and the site was surveyed so we know where everything is. In the near future, our UW partners will flip a switch at the RSN Shore Station to send power through the cable, and we can start sending data back to shore! It is expected that data will be available in 2015, with an announcement by Ocean Leaderhip. But for now we are breathing a sigh of relief that the package was safely delivered and remains carefully wrapped until we're prepared to open it up and share it with the world.