Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Undersea cable laid for 'transformative' ocean observatory

The article at the very end of this blog post mentions the cities of Pacific City and Astoria, Oregon. So I share two maps showing the location of each city on the Oregon coast.

Then there's some brief info about the Oregon Coast - there's lots more ifo at Wikipedia on these areas should you wish to read them.

Finally is the article itself.

Oregon - pronounced Or-a-gun - is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern boundaries, respectively. The area was inhabited by many indigenous tribes before the arrival of traders, explorers, and settlers who formed an autonomous government in Oregon Country in 1843. The Oregon Territory was created in 1848, and Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859.

Oregon's Pacific coastline:
The Oregon Coast is a region of the U.S. state of Oregon. It runs generally north-south along the Pacific Ocean, forming the western border of the state; the region is bounded to the east by the Oregon Coast Range. The Oregon Coast stretches approximately 363 miles (584 km) from the Columbia River in the north to the Oregon–California state border in the south. The Oregon Coast is not a specific geological, environmental, or political entity, but instead includes the entire coastline of Oregon, including the Columbia River Estuary.

1967's Oregon Beach Bill allows free beach access to everyone. This Bill allows private beach landowners to retain certain beach land rights, but it removes the property tax obligation of the beach landowner. In exchange, the beach landowner grants an easement passage to pedestrians. The Beach Bill grants a public access easement on the beach that cannot be taken away by the landowner nor can the landowner build on the beach.

Traditionally, the Oregon Coast is regarded as three distinct sub-regions, each with its own local features and regional history. While there are no legal or objective boundaries, most Oregonians consider the three regions to be:

The North Coast, which stretches from the Columbia River to Neskowin.

The Central Coast, which stretches from Lincoln City to Florence.

The South Coast, which stretches from Reedsport to the Oregon–California border.

The largest city along the Oregon Coast is Coos Bay—population 16,000—in Coos County on the South Coast. U.S. Route 101 is the primary highway from Astoria to Brookings, and is known for its scenic overlooks of the Pacific Ocean. There are over 80 state parks and recreation areas along the Oregon Coast. However, there are only a few highways that cross the coast mountains from the interior to the coast.

This has led to highways US-20, US-30, US-26, SR-18 and SR-22, all serving the Willamette Valley / Portland area to the North and Central Coasts as being considered some of the worst in terms of traffic, a conclusion disputed by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Highways SR-18 and US-20 are considered two of the most dangerous roads in the state.

The Oregon Coast includes Clatsop County, Tillamook County, Lincoln County, western Lane County, western Douglas County, Coos County, and Curry County.

From Undersea cable laid for 'transformative' ocean observatory
This spring there was a big volcanic eruption in the Pacific Northwest. If you missed it, you're not alone. It happened under the ocean off the northern Oregon coast.

However, all this week [Sept 8-15) a University of Washington research ship has been streaming live video via satellite of lava flows in the undersea crater. In a couple years, 24/7 video coverage of the ocean floor will be made possible by a new underwater fiber optic cable.

"This is big deal," says UW oceanography professor John Delaney. "Suddenly the ocean is going to be accessible to people. We can't take them all out there deep in the ocean, but we can bring the ocean to them."

Wiring the ocean
Delaney is describing his baby ... a very expensive and ambitious high-tech baby. He is one of the driving forces behind an effort to wire the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington coasts for science.

Delaney says the vision for this cable and instrument array dates back twenty years.

"I think I was complaining to a friend in a bar, probably in San Francisco."

Delaney recalls bemoaning the expense and difficulty of gathering data in the deep ocean. Then the conversation turned to new undersea fiber optic cables.

"'Bingo!' We said, let's do something about this," Delaney recalls. "That was a long time ago."

Laying cable
Now the vision is becoming reality. A commercial-cable laying ship has just finished spooling out 560 miles of fiber optic cable. One strand starts from Pacific City, Ore., goes out to the edge of the continental shelf and then loops down toward Newport. Another line heads far out to sea to an underwater volcano.

Scientists plan to attach dozens and dozens of instruments to the cables. Seismometers could give us a better idea about the offshore earthquake threat. Other sensors will track fish migration, ocean acidification, weather trends and dissolved oxygen, just to name a few.

Underwater microphones could capture whale calls, like hard-to-find blue whales.

Delaney says the undersea network is designed to funnel a fire hose of open source, real time data to the internet around the clock.

"So people that are interested – and I'm hoping it will be a growing number of people – will have the ability to tap into what we're doing," he says. "They'll be able to watch over our shoulders electronically as we discover things, as we make mistakes."

Spying on the volcano
One of the cool things to eavesdrop on might be an undersea volcano called the Axial Seamount. It is 300 miles out in the ocean due west of Astoria. Delaney is out there right now with co-chief scientist Debbie Kelley. They're scouting hydrothermal vents to wire up.

"Many people now think the volcanoes on the seafloor are where life originated on the planet," Kelley explains. "One of the things we're going to see later on the dive are these vents called snowblower vents, which is where there is warm water issuing out of the seafloor at about 30 degrees Centigrade. With it, it is entraining novel microorganisms."

This summer, Oregon State University scientists and engineers are also on the water, testing instrument packages and buoys that will connect in part to the fiber optic network.

OSU Professor Bob Collier says it's fair to say the data array will "revolutionize" oceanography.

"With this cable we really are able to provide a whole new way of looking at the ocean, which we honestly have never had before," he says.

The OSU and UW pieces fall under the umbrella of a larger project with locations in other oceans. It's called the Ocean Observatories Initiative. U.S. taxpayers are paying for the whole thing through the National Science Foundation.

Construction of the regional underwater cable network is budgeted for $153 million. It'll be in full service in 2014.

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