The worst part about exploring the sea floor is that there’s water everywhere. It’s dark, cold and not terribly compatible with breathing. But with Neptune Canada sprawled along 805km of the sea floor like an ancient serpent, nothing down there will escape our study.
The Neptune — North-East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments — Canada Ocean Network is the world’s largest cabled undersea observatory. Its sensors spread from edge of Western British Columbia, out along the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, covering 853km of diverse underwater terrain.
Six nodes spread out at various locations along the backbone cable with more than 250 instruments among them. The data that these instruments collect — 60 terabytes yearly — is then transmitted back along the central cable to fibre optic lines to the University of Victoria where it is automatically archived and made available free at NeptuneCanada.ca. So far, Neptune Canada has racked up over 10 terabits of scientific data since its activation in December ’09.
This monumental series of sensors measures and records everything — from temperature, pressure, salinity and current flow to sonar readings to still and video images, as well as core and microbe samples. It’s got underwater mics to record the sounds of passing whales and seismometers to record the rumbling of passing plates. With this continuous torrent of data, researchers hope to advance a variety of disciplines, from Earthquake and plate tectonics to climate change to long-term observation of deep-sea ecosystems. The system itself has an expected 25-year service life.
The Neptune Canada ocean network is headed by American scientist Kate Moran, who just recently took over as director of the ocean network in July of this year. Formerly, she served for two years as assistant director in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, advising the Obama administration on the oceans, the Arctic and global warming. “Earth observation networks are critical for understanding the Earth system, particularly in the oceans as they become further impacted by climate change and in seismically active areas, such as Canada’s west coast,” Moran said in a press release.
The system cost $US106 million to install, and operates with a $US12 million annual budget. With that much money being thrown around, I demand to see a Kracken — or at least a quality Giant Squid shot.
A map of the Neptune Canada Ocean Network
A school of Sunfish