Preparing to install the world's largest underwater observatory

Creating a cabled observatory that will bring power and Internet to the ocean floor.

This concept of a real-time observatory will change what we do as ocean engineers, what we will learn how to do, and what ocean scientists can do with these systems now and in the future -- Gary Harkins, PI, Project Lead

The basement lab near the University of Washington campus is, literally, buzzing. High-voltage machines produce energy that will soon run through cables snaking along the seafloor. A dozen engineers hunch over electronics, making alterations or running checks. In one corner, a nitride-coated titanium shaft has been sitting in a bucket of saltwater for four months to test the coating for corrosion. A glass-walled cleanroom prevents contaminants from interfering with seals on housings designed to keep out seawater pressing in at 4,200 pounds per square inch.

This is crunch time for University of Washington preparations to build the world's largest underwater observatory. The National Science Foundation in 2009 launched the $239 million effort led by John Delaney, UW professor of oceanography, to create a cabled observatory that will bring power and Internet to the ocean floor. This new concept will use remote-controlled instruments and high-bandwidth video to create an enduring, real-time presence in the deep ocean.

Researchers in the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory were tasked by Delaney to build and test the equipment that will make up the observatory. Much of that equipment will be installed this summer. This is the biggest project the 70-year-old marine engineering institute has ever undertaken, said project lead Gary Harkins, a principal engineer with the lab.

Full story by Hannah Hickey of UW News and Information is here...

This concept of a real-time observatory will change what we do as ocean engineers, what we will learn how to do, and what ocean scientists can do with these systems now and in the future -- Gary Harkins, PI, Project Lead