New data portal takes you deep within the ocean’s hidden world

Interactive Oceans Vent Image

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Interactive website offers access to real-time ocean data from off the Oregon coast

In the introduction to her oceanography class, Cheryl Greengrove’s undergraduate students learn how one of the most critical forces of nature — upwelling — ties the rotation of the Earth, weather patterns and climate to what is happening in the ocean.

Now, with a new Interactive oceans website launched in June, her students will be able to apply what they learn in a textbook to what’s actually happening in the ocean. They will be able to explore real-time data to evaluate whether upwelling is happening off the Oregon coast— when the wind blows parallel to the coast, forcing the deeper water up to replace the water being pushed off shore — using data on wind direction, oxygen, nitrate and chlorophyll levels, water temperature and salinity. Even more, the data can help the students better understand one of the most biologically productive areas of the ocean.

The associate professor of geoscience in UW Tacoma’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences was among the oceanographers and educators who gave their input on the capabilities needed for the new Interactiveoceans website. The result is an easy-to-use interface providing access to data available from the Regional Cabled Array, a vast network of sensors extending along the seafloor and throughout the water column for more than 300 miles off the coast of Oregon. The Cabled Array is part of the National Science Foundation’s Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), which is transforming our understanding of the ocean through unprecedented access to data from sensors on integrated, scientific platforms located at multiple sites in the Western Hemisphere. These data are open to everyone, so they can see and understand what is happening in the ocean depths.

Information reaches surface at speed of light

The Interactiveoceans website takes you deep into the ocean, offering data on light, temperature and a whole host of other variables collected by more than 140 instruments throughout the water column and along the seafloor. It offers recordings of mammal vocalizations and video from underwater hot springs where never-before-seen organisms live. It introduces the technology and the instruments being used on the Regional Cabled Array, with data streaming to shore through fiber optic cables at the speed of broadband Internet.

An interactive map on the website’s Data Portal showcases research sites — including one of the world’s most active underwater volcanos — and what you’ll find at each site. There’s also an visual gallery describing the state-of-the-art technology used to reach these environments and the growing collection of videos and images in the Biology Catalog, with many species catalogued by students who have participated on the annual summer UW VISIONS at-sea education program.

Real-time data key to making sense of the ocean

“If you say there’s a huge observatory in the ocean, it’s hard for people to understand what you mean,” explained Rob Fatland, who is director of research computing in UW Information Technology (UW-IT) and who helped put together the team who developed the website. The information available on the website is meant to explain what the ocean observatory looks like and give you a portal to explore the ocean.

“With real-time data, you can visualize and hear what is happening moment to moment,” said Deborah Kelley, a UW oceanography professor and director of the OOI Regional Cabled Array, who was instrumental in developing the website. Just by looking at the data, Kelley can tell if it is stormy, sunny or cloudy from instruments that measure pressure and sunlight. She can see how organisms in the ocean respond to a storm through data from instruments that measure chlorophyll and the distribution of plankton, tiny plants and animals that nourish larger animals.

The new website’s Data Portal translates the immense volume and complexity of the data from the various instruments on the Regional Cabled Array by bringing the information together. Before, you could plot one variable through one instrument. Now, through the Data Portal, you can plot multiple parameters through multiple instruments, so you can examine salinity, temperature, plus carbon dioxide and oxygen concentrations, for example, and how they vary over time and space. These environmental parameters help inform scientists about ocean currents that in turn influence marine organisms and their food chain, and even the Earth’s climate system.

Cheryl Greengrove plans to work with Kelley and others to build a collection of educational resources from the OOI data available through the website that can be used by the geoscience community and anyone who is interested. They want instructors and students everywhere, even in Kansas — about as far from the coast as you can get — to get as excited about the OOI data and what it tells us about our ever changing oceans.

“The Data Portal will allow people – students and scientists – to visualize data in meaningful ways and explore this dynamic, ever changing environment rarely seen directly by humans,” said Kelley.

This story was posted on July 30, 2019