National Science Foundation Grants $220 Million To UW, OSU, Others To Continue Ocean Observatories Initiative; Measure Climate Change Impacts

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded a coalition of academic and oceanographic research organizations including Oregon State University a five-year, $220 million cooperative agreement to continue operating and maintaining the Ocean Observatories Initiative.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution leads the consortium, which also includes the University of Washington. Under the initiative, five observatories in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, together outfitted with more than 900 instruments, continually collect and deliver data to shore via a cyberinfrastructure that makes the data readily available to anyone with an internet connection.

The system measures physical, chemical, geological and biological properties and processes from the seafloor to the sea-air interface in key coastal and open-ocean sites, including critical climate indicators such as ocean water acidity and the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide. Data collected helps address critical questions about the Earth-ocean system, including climate change, ecosystem variability, plate-scale seismicity and submarine volcanism, with the goal of bettering understanding of the ocean and the planet.

“This National Science Foundation facility is critical to helping scientists and the public understand the changes underway in our oceans,” said Tuba Özkan-Haller, dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, which oversees the university’s portion of the project. “We are pleased to be part of this consortium and look forward to another five years of research and discovery.”

Each participating institution will continue to operate and maintain a portion of the Ocean Observatories Initiative assets that were first deployed in 2015 and have been collecting vast amounts of data ever since. Oregon State oversees the stand-alone moorings of the Endurance Array, the initiative’s observatory off the coast of Washington and Oregon, and also manages the initiative’s data transmission cyberinfrastructure, with a data center headquartered in Corvallis.

To support these National Science Foundation facilities, the OSU research team will receive $32.7 million for the Endurance Array and $15.9 million for the data center. The university also will receive funding for ship time to deploy and service equipment in the Pacific Ocean. This brings OSU’s total National Science Foundation funding to support the Ocean Observatories Initiative to $194 million since 2007.

“OSU’s participation in the OOI builds on a legacy of 60-plus years of oceanographic research here,” said Ed Dever, professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and principal investigator for the OOI Endurance Array. “Together with our partners, we’re committed to the stewardship of this facility for the NSF and the ocean research community.”

As part of the Endurance Array, OSU manages seven surface moorings off Newport, Oregon, and Grays Harbor, Washington, four of which monitor several meteorological factors, including wind speed, solar radiation, air temperature and rainfall. The moorings also collect oceanographic data, including water temperature, salinity and chemical measurements such as oxygen, nitrogen, pH and carbon dioxide levels.

Biological sensors track chlorophyll levels and dissolved organic material, which are important indicators for marine productivity. Bioacoustic measurements use sound waves to document the presence of plankton and small fish.

The northeastern region of the Pacific Ocean is a focal point for scientists because of emerging issues including hypoxia and marine “dead zones,” marine heatwaves, subduction zone earthquakes, tsunamis, harmful algal blooms, wave energy potential, ocean acidification and dramatic variations in some upwelling-fed fisheries.

“The data we’ve been collecting are essential to understanding the regional physical and ecosystem response to climate change,” Dever said. “This new award will make possible the continued collection of research data, upgrades to measurement technologies and improved curation of historical OOI data. While the OOI is designed as a research facility, the data collected has important uses for policymakers, educators and mariners.”

Oregon State assumed management of the data center and cyberinfrastructure for the initiative in 2020. In the coming years, the data center will be vastly expanded to accommodate a quadrupling of the data that is projected to be collected over the next five years. The center’s speed, security and computational power will be improved, said Anthony Koppers, the principal investigator for the OSU cyberinfrastructure team.

“The NSF OOI data center will need to keep growing and modernizing to best serve tomorrow’s end-user research needs,” said Koppers, who is associate vice president for research advancement and strategy in OSU’s research office and a professor of marine geology in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Therefore, we are providing OOI with a low-risk but state-of-the-art data center and research computing solution that will not only negate any system downtime and provide easy and fast cloud-equivalent access to petabytes of data for researchers and students across the globe.”

WHOI will continue to serve as the home of the National Science Foundation OOI Project Management Office and will operate the Pioneer Array in the mid-Atlantic Bight off the North Carolina coast, subject to environmental permitting, and the Global Arrays in the Irminger Sea off the southern tip of Greenland and at Station Papa in the Gulf of Alaska. The University of Washington will operate the Regional Cabled Array that extends across the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and overlying ocean.

The Project Management Office at Woods Hole collaborates with the National Science Foundation to provide high-level oversight and financial management of the project. In addition, the office coordinates with partner institutions to establish annual priorities for each of the arrays individually, for the data center and for the overall OOI network.

“The WHOI team and our partners at UW and OSU have learned a great deal over the past five years and are grateful that our efforts to perfect OOI and its data delivery system have been recognized,” said Woods Hole Senior Scientist Jim Edson, lead principal investigator on the initiative. “We look forward to the next five years where we can continue to perfect our collection and serving of data, while encouraging it increased use and collaboration among ocean scientists funded by NSF and other agencies.”

The Ocean Observatories Initiative officially launched in 2009, when the National Science Foundation awarded the first cooperative agreement to support the construction and initial operation of OOI’s cabled, coastal and global arrays. Funding continued with a new award for OOI’s operation and management in 2018.

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