Fiber-Optic Link Brings Undersea Science Data Onto the Web

By Brett Israel | December 14, 2009 1:15 pm

wally-rover-webThe world’s largest network of fully wired undersea science stations has gone live off Canada’s western coast. The NEPTUNE network has begun streaming data from undersea instruments and sensors located on the Pacific Ocean floor directly to the Internet. The network is expected to produce 50 terabytes of data annually, all of which will inform scientists about everything from earthquake dynamics to the effects of climate change on the water column, and from deep-sea ecosystems to salmon migration [Scientific American].

NEPTUNE will also feature a deep sea rover nicknamed Wally that will measure the temperature, salinity, methane content, and sediment characteristics on the ocean floor. The $100 million project will produce more than pretty pictures and a fire hose of data—it can also provide advanced tsunami warnings that could save both lives and money.

The NEPTUNE network is already heralded as a revolutionary advancement for ocean explorers, a step toward wiring the oceans so researchers can remotely observe one of the last great unexplored areas on earth. Prior to NEPTUNE, communicating with a submersible required either a radio-equipped buoy or physically docking with the craft. Now, NEPTUNE lets a range of experiments, instruments, and undersea robots broadcast their data directly onto the web [Popular Science]. A fiber-optic cable loop, stretching 497 miles off the coast of Canada, links the undersea instruments to the Internet.

While the instruments will occasionally transmit images of the deep sea to the web, don’t expect a web cam on the seabed. Due to the sensitivity of deep-sea ecosystems to light, images from the remote-controlled NEPTUNE Rover are available only when researchers are moving the rover between locations. The lights will remain off most of the time and it’s unclear when they will be switched on next [Globe and Mail]. In the meantime, Scientific American has a slideshow of the project here.

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Image: NEPTUNE Canada

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Technology
MORE ABOUT: internet, ocean
  • Brian Too

    I was just reading that this system is hard-pressed for funding.

    This was in the article “Scrounging for cash slows scientific efforts”, by Margaret Munro, Canwest News Service, December 15, 2009.

  • http://neptunecanada.ca Dwight Owens

    Thanks for your story on NEPTUNE Canada. Regarding our seafloor camera (currently a black & white low-light camera), we have now established a lights-on schedule, which we’re posting on our calendar: http://wiki.neptunecanada.ca/display/eventcalendar/Home

    For a tutorial on how to access the live seafloor video see:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJE067BzR2s

    Also, there’s a tutorial on how to search/browse data from the seafloor:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15Is9nasd2w

    Regards, Dwight Owens, Web Content Manager, NEPTUNE Canada

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