Ocean Observatory Systems

NEPTUNE is more than just a planet…a clever acronym for the North-East Pacific Time-Series Undersea Networked Experiments. The U.S. Canadian venture is series of cable-linked seafloor observatories, purported to be the world’s largest. The project will lay 3,000 km of powered fibre optic cable over a 200,000 sq km region in the northeast Pacific. The network will contain several scientific nodes that can be controlled and monitored from land. There are four major research themes including: the structure and seismic behaviour of the ocean crust, seabed chemistry and geology, ocean climate change and its effects on marine life at all depths, and the diversity of deep sea ecosystems. NEPTUNE is expected to begin operation following installation of two test networks, VENUS (Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea) project off the southern British Columbia coast led by the University of Victoria and MARS (Monterey Accelerated Research System) project off Monterey, California led by MBARI. To date, NEPTUNE Canada has completed the lay of an 800 km ring of powered fibre optic cable on the seabed over the northern part of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, a 200,000 sq km region in the northeast Pacific off the coasts of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.


The Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) is a cabled observatory that can provide “remote, continuous, long-term, high-power, large-bandwidth infrastructure for multidisciplinary, in situ exploration, observation, and experimentation in the deep sea.” The MARS system was designed and engineered here at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and is located off Monterey Canyon. The systems includcs a science node on 51 km of submarine cable (laid this year) with expansion capability for more nodes in the future. The node providese 8 science ports, with a 100-Mbit-persecond, bi-directional telemetry channel and 10 kW of power. “Extension” cables can be from the ports can provide power and communications up to 4 km away.

And in words too articulate to put in my own…

“The broader implication of installing MARS is that the oceanographic community will be a giant step closer to providing real-time, continuous access to unprecedented power and communications capability underwater on a regional scale. This type of ocean observatory will revolutionize the way researchers study the ocean and the seafloor beneath. Benefits will include more cost-effective collection of much larger amounts of integrated, multidisciplinary data relevant to important scientific and societal issues, such as natural hazards, the climate system, the carbon cycle, and other biologically-mediated processes in the ocean. In addition, researchers will use such facilities to explore entirely new classes of problems currently unapproachable with existing assets.”

In addittion, Peter and I, in behalf of DSN, are initiating our own network called PLUTO (Painfully Limited, Underfunded, Technical Observatory).

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.