VISIONS 14 Overview and Goals

The VISIONS '14 expedition is focused on completing construction 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). The OOI is managed and coordinated through the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Work this summer includes installation and testing of secondary infrastructure: extension cables, junction boxes, instruments, and deep- and shallow-profiler moorings. Data for use by the scientific community are scheduled to be available in early 2015 after commissioning and the beginning of full operations. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership will announce when data are fully available.

The University of Washington leads the cabled observatory component of the OOI, which has the formal name of the Regional Scale Nodes. The Science and Project Management Team is housed within the College of the Environment, School of Oceanography and the Engineering Team is located in the Applied Physics Laboratory. When commissioned and fully operational in early 2015, each of the RSN study sites will feature real-time two-way communication to the Internet and power provided by 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 nearly 12-week VISIONS '14 expedition runs from 13 July to 6 October and is divided into seven legs. It will take place onboard the 274’ UW-operated Research Vessel Thomas G. Thompson, and will use the Canadian remotely operated vehicle (ROV) ROPOS. The UW OOI team of oceanographers, engineers, and educators will take ~45 undergraduate and graduate students to sea with them, providing immersive experiences in sea-going operations, research, and science communication.

The following tasks are scheduled for completion during VISIONS '14:

–Installation of OOI-RSN seafloor infrastructure at Axial Seamount, including extension cables, junction boxes,and instruments at the Axial Caldera study site (PN3B).

–Installation of Shallow Profiler and Deep Profiler Mooring systems, and associated seafloor infrastructure, at Axial Base study site (PN3A) and  Slope Base study site (PN1A)

–Installation of Shallow Profiler and Deep Profiler Mooring systems and associated seafloor infrastructure at the Endurance Offshore study site (PN1C); joint with Oregon State Universty.

–Installation of seafloor infrastructure at the Southern Hydrate Ridge study site (near PN1B) and monitoring of installation of 10- and 17-km extension cables by the TE Subcom CS Dependable.

–Installation of a cabled profiler, a Benthic Experiment Package, junction boxes, and a Surface Piercing Profiler at Endurance Shelf Site (PN1D; joint with Oregon State University.

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 575 miles 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. Data are scheduled to flow live from the submarine network in early 2015 after commissioning and when full operations are under way.

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.