New generation of ocean exploration propelled by high-speed wireless technology

December 10, 2001

Opening the door to a new stage in ocean exploration, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a new technology-driven approach to improving sea-going investigations.

The effort is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Much like rural doctors who increasingly use technology to access vital medical information at remote locations, the scientists will soon use wireless networking to link land-based tools and resources with oceanographic ships at sea. They will present their findings this week at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, California.

"High-speed wireless networking is a key technical development for the future of ocean research," said James Yoder, director of NSF's division of ocean sciences. "We see many applications, including controlling and receiving data from sophisticated, unattended instruments, that will be part of future ocean observatories located in remote areas of the global ocean."

The project, "Exploring the Environment in Time: Wireless Networks and Real-Time Management," capitalizes on recent advances in high-speed satellite and wireless networking through the Internet for real-time delivery of large quantities of data at high, but affordable, rates.

Under the new design, information obtained at sea will be transmitted instantly to shore. Thus, scientists on land will be able to analyze the data immediately and provide feedback to ships at sea. The project is the next stage in oceanographic ship-to-shore communication, an advance from prior efforts using radio, telephone, and early satellite communications.

The scientists say the impact on scientific work aboard ships is likely to be far-reaching. They assert it will be possible to go to sea in the future with limited engineering capability for scientific operations by allowing shore-based quality control of data collected, and videoconferencing for problem resolution. Costs for shipboard measurements will be reduced significantly, they believe, and the quality of data collected will increase.

"This is a major step in bringing new satellite and Internet technologies to oceanographic ships at sea while doing research," said scientist Jon Berger of Scripps. "In the future this will give us the opportunity to make decisions on shore in real-time."

The system will be installed on the Scripps research vessel Roger Revelle in New Zealand in February 2002. The researchers have scheduled a series of tests on Revelle research cruises throughout the Pacific during 2002. The project's goal is to demonstrate the communications system in various weather conditions and sea states while testing and developing the real-time data quality control and archiving methodology.
The tests aboard the R/V Roger Revelle are supported by NSF and the Office of Naval Research.

National Science Foundation

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