Magazine article Oceanus

Live from the Tropics, It's an Ocean Network

Magazine article Oceanus

Live from the Tropics, It's an Ocean Network

Article excerpt

With a click of his computer mouse, Scott Gallager was swimming with the fishes off the west coast of Panama. Virtual reality? Well, the fish, corals, and currents are real; Gallager, however, is virtually there, connected by an electro-optical cable back to shore and via the Internet to his office at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In January 2006, Gallager, a WHOI biologist, led a dive team that installed this cabled observatory off the island of Canales de Tierra. It's the latest in a series of what he calls "underwater laboratories" that can monitor marine ecosystems over long periods and transmit live images and data back to scientists.

The new observatory gives scientists "tele-presence," he said. A 0.75-mile (1.2-kilometer) cable runs power and data between a shore-based facility (the Liquid Jungle Laboratory) and a node 50 feet (15 meters) below the sea surface. Plugged into the node are sensors to continuously measure the temperature, salinity, pH, and turbidity of the water, as well as currents, chlorophyll, oxygen, and light levels. The observatory also has a pan-and-tilt camera.

Together, the sensors give scientists unprecedented ability to observe and begin to unravel all the factors that combine to sustain the ecosystem--how fresh water, plant detritus, sediments, chemicals, and other materials run off the coast; how they mix into the sea, increase turbidity, change the penetration of light, and add nutrients; how all these influence marine life, from the microscopic plants at the base of the food chain to the corals and fish; and how these change after storms and over seasons. …

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