UW to get $126 million for new ocean seafloor observatory
The University of Washington will receive $126 million over the next five and a half years to build what is being described as a revolutionary new ocean observatory on the seafloor of the Pacific Northwest, officials announced Wednesday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The image, broadcast in high-definition, shows black water shooting up like a geyser in the deep sea. The camera then catches a cluster of tube worms thriving nearby.
Such exotic footage of ocean life is exactly what scientists at the University of Washington plan to make available online through a groundbreaking $126 million observatory on the seafloor off the Pacific Northwest.
The funding, announced Wednesday, will come over the next 5-½ years.
The total includes about $35 million in federal stimulus money that will go to installing 500 miles of fiber-optic and power cables to beam images from the ocean floor onto the Internet, said John Delaney, a UW professor of oceanography and director of the underwater research facility called the Regional Scale Nodes program.
The rest of the money comes from the National Science Foundation, as part of its Oceans Observatories Initiative.
The observatory will give scientists new insight into phenomena such as climate change, Delaney said. It also will help shed light on volcanic activity on the Juan de Fuca Plate — one of the Earth's major tectonic plates, he added.
The $126 million is the largest grant the UW has ever gotten in a 5-½-year period, said UW President Mark Emmert.
"This is going to completely transform ... the way we've come to interact with the ocean," Emmert said.
The system will rely on various instruments, moorings and robots on the sea floor to collect and transmit data and receive instructions from operators on land. Anyone with an Internet connection will be able to watch the high-definition video and look up data on various aspects of ocean life, Emmert said.
One of the best parts, he said, is that information can be compiled around the clock — a monumental leap in deep-sea research.
"Scientists and students will have real-time access in ways that were utterly unimaginable," he said.
Delaney has been working for more than 20 years to secure funding for the project. The stimulus dollars helped push it forward by about 10 months, said Mike Kelly, assistant project manager.
The university is now in the final stages of negotiating the cable manufacturing and installation contract, he said.
The first phase of laying down the cable is scheduled for the summer of 2012, he said. Completion is expected around 2015.
Kelly said to learn more about life on land, it's critical to study the seas.
"To me, the ocean is something we can touch and see ... and yet we know so little about it," Kelly said.
Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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