UW News

August 10, 2017

Researchers, students on annual expedition to maintain internet-connected deep-sea observatory

UW News

University of Washington oceanography researchers, engineers, and students are working off the coast of Oregon on the yearly cruise to maintain the deep-ocean observatory, the Cabled Array, which brings power and broadband Internet to the seafloor and water above.

people in front of ship

Deborah Kelley (left) and undergraduate students in Newport, Oregon, on Aug. 9 at the end of the first leg of the cruise.Mitch Elend/University of Washington

The cruise, funded by the National Science Foundation, left July 25 from Newport, Oregon, and will be back Aug. 29. The group is on the California-based research vessel Roger Revelle, since the UW’s large research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, is completing its major midlife overhaul.

Deborah Kelley, UW professor of oceanography, is chief scientist on the cruise that recently began its second leg.

While at sea a deep-sea robot will brave the crushing pressures and cold temperatures, while the team works day and night to direct the dives and prepare equipment above water. The researchers will be cleaning some instruments from marine life, and swapping out sensors that collect hot spring fluids and DNA samples over their year-long missions.

creatures on instrument

One of the shallowest pieces of the observatory lives about a tenth of a mile (200 meters) beneath the water’s surface. After a year it is coated in large anemones, small pink sea urchins, feathery brown crinoids , and small crustaceans.UW/NSF-OOI/Jason

The team is posting regular updates from the ship. On Aug. 1, members reported seeing pyrosomes, the bioluminescent tube-shaped tropical animals that have been seen this year off the Pacific Northwest. They are also posting highlights of the robot-captured dive videos, including one showing how marine creatures are getting cozy on the UW-built technology.

In addition to the maintenance work, two new instruments from William Chadwick at Oregon State University will be added. The first will monitor tilting and the rise and fall of the seafloor to detect inflation and deflation at Axial Seamount, an underwater volcano that is part of the cabled observatory. A second instrument, to be placed in a nearby hydrothermal vent field, will measure the temperature and salinity of fluids that waft around the vents and in the Axial caldera. More than 120 instruments — including seismometers, high-definition video and digital still camera, and underwater chemical mass spectrometers — will be recovered and reinstalled during the cruise. Data from all instruments is accessible in real time from shore through the Ocean Observatories Initiative Data Portal.

student working on deck

Katie Gonzalez, from Clallam Bay, will be a UW freshman this fall. Here, she is cleaning an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler that was at 1.8 miles depth.Mitch Elend/University of Washington

This year’s cruise includes 24 undergraduate and graduate students from the UW, Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Western Washington University in Bellingham and Queens College in New York. They are posting student blogs. For many undergraduates this will be their first experience at sea.

Other cruise participants include a teacher from Kingston Middle School in Kitsap County, faculty members from Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen and UW Tacoma, and a postdoctoral researcher from the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

Follow along on Twitter at @VISIONSops, or tune in during one of the robot’s dives for live video from the deep sea.


For more information, contact Kelley at dskelley@uw.edu.