VISIONS 13 Overview and Goals

The VISIONS’13 expedition in July and August 2013 focused on deploying and testing 22,000 meters of extension cables that are part of the secondary infrastructure of the first U.S. high-power and high-bandwidth regional cabled ocean observatory, a component of the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). Some installation work originally planned for 2013 is being delayed temporarily as the OOI team works with contractor L-3 MariPro toward acceptance of the components of the system installed last year. See here for more details.

The University of Washington leads the cabled observatory component of the OOI, which has the formal name of the Regional Scale Nodes. Work to be accomplished during VISIONS ‘13 is in preparation for completing installations in 2014 of secondary nodes, instruments, and mooring profilers at five study sites. When fully operational in 2015, each of these sites will feature real-time two-way communication to the Internet and power provided by the 540 miles of electro-optical telecommunications cable installed in 2011 and 7 primary nodes deployed in 2012. Secondary, or extension, cables total some 35 miles in length.

The six-week VISIONS '13 expedition was divided into four legs, took place onboard the 274’ UW-operated research vessel Thomas G. Thompson, and utilized the Canadian remotely operated vehicle (ROV) ROPOS. The UW OOI team of oceanographers, engineers, and educators took twenty undergraduate and graduate students to sea with them, providing immersive experiences in sea-going operations, research, and science communication.

Researchers streamed live HD video from the ship and seafloor via satellite during the cruise.

Why a Cabled Ocean Observatory?

The the global ocean is the life support system of the planet, modulating climate and influencing food production on the continents. Yet the global ocean is highly complex and relatively poorly understood. Historically, oceanographers have gone to sea in ships to study specific processes in limited portions of the ocean for short periods of time. We have utilized satellite systems for surficial imaging and for limited bandwidth communications (e.g., Iridium) to extend the reach and duration of research in the oceans, but we must deliver next-generation approaches fast enough and well enough to confidently anticipate short- and long-term ocean-generated threats, as well as opportunities.

As a global community, one of our principal environmental and educational challenges is to optimize the benefits and mitigate the risks of living on the ocean planet. A grand challenge within the ocean sciences over the coming decades will be to implement novel strategies and innovative infrastructures that will dramatically increase society's rate of discovery and understanding. We must learn to engage a next-generation workforce that can begin to understand the complex issues associated with our ultimate challenge, which is to learn enough to predict changes in oceanic behavior.

The fiber-optic cables of the Regional Scale Nodes will carry electrical power (up to 200 kW) and telecommunications bandwidth (up to 240 Gbits/sec) into the oceans to serve the needs of science, education, and humanity at large. With design, construction, and early operations led by the University of Washington, the 900 kilometers of OOI cable will create a large-aperture natural laboratory for conducting a wide range of long-term and innovative experiments within the ocean volume using real-time control over the entire cabled system.

Why the Northeast Pacific?

A representative suite of natural phenomena that occur throughout the world's oceans and seafloor are found in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Cabled ocean observatories in the U.S. and Canada that provide significant electrical power and high telecommunications bandwidth in real-time to arrays of sensors on the seafloor and throughout the water column will enable scientists to conduct local investigations of such global processes as major ocean currents, active earthquake zones, creation of new seafloor, and rich environments of marine plants and animals.

The OOI cabled system is designed to be expandable during its planned 25-year lifetime. There is potential, with additional funding, to add study sites and myriad sensor networks at other key locations identified by the scientific community.

Improving Predictive Models of Ocean Processes

The continuous, high-quality observations made over the two- to three-decade lifespan of the whole Ocean Observatories Initiative system will provide essential data to improve predictive models of ocean processes. Integration of data from the Global, Regional, and Coastal Scale nodes by the OOI Cyberinfrastructure will provide new insights into how the ocean functions and will form the basis for learning to manage, or at least adapt to, the most powerful climate modulating system on the planet–the global ocean.