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National Science Foundation Awards $220M, Five-Year Contract to Continue Support of Pioneering Ocean Observatories Initiative

The State-of-the-Art Marine Facility Delivers Data and Insight to the Ocean Science Community, Educators, Policymakers, and the Public Worldwide

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced this week that it has awarded a coalition of academic and oceanographic research organizations a five-year, $220 million contract to operate and maintain the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The coalition, led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), with direction from the NSF and guidance from the OOI Facilities Board, will include the University of Washington (UW), Oregon State University (OSU), and Rutgers University.

The OOI is an advanced system of integrated, scientific platforms and sensors that measure physical, chemical, geological and biological properties and processes from the seafloor to the sea surface in key coastal and open-ocean sites of the Atlantic and Pacific. The facility was designed to address critical questions about the Earth–ocean system, including climate change, ecosystem variability, ocean acidification plate-scale seismicity and submarine volcanoes, and carbon cycling with the goal of better understanding the ocean and our planet. All OOI data are freely available online.

Each institution will continue to operate and maintain the portion of OOI assets for which it is currently responsible: UW will operate the Regional Cabled Array that extends across the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and overlying ocean; OSU will operate the Endurance Array off the coast of Washington and Oregon; WHOI will operate the Pioneer Array off the Northeast U.S. coast and the Global Arrays in the Irminger Sea off the southern tip of Greenland and at Station Papa in the Gulf of Alaska; and Rutgers will operate the cyberinfrastructure system that ingests and delivers data for the initiative. In addition, WHOI will serve as the home of a new OOI Project Management Office.

“We at NSF are proud of our continuing investment in 24/7 streaming data from the ocean and coupled earth systems,” said William Easterling, NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences. “From underwater volcanoes to ocean currents, OOI enables cutting-edge scientific discoveries and makes big data accessible to classrooms at all levels. These data are key to addressing everyday challenges, such as better storm predictions and management of our coastal resources.”

The OOI officially launched in 2009, when the NSF and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership signed a cooperative agreement to support the construction and initial operation of OOI’s cabled, coastal and global arrays. The launch represented the culmination of work begun decades earlier, when ocean scientists in the 1980s envisioned a collection of outposts in the ocean that would gather data around the clock, in real- and near-real time for years on end, and enhance the scientific community’s ability to observe complex oceanographic processes that occur and evolve over time scales ranging from seconds to decades, and spatial scales ranging from inches to miles.

The OOI currently supports more than 500 autonomous instruments on the seafloor and on moored and free-swimming platforms that are serviced during regular, ship-based expeditions to the array sites. Data from each instrument is transmitted to shore, where it is freely available to users worldwide, including members of the scientific community, policy experts, decision-makers, educators and the general public.

“Rutgers is proud to be a part of this transformative project that provides scientists and educators across the globe access to the richest source of real-time, in-water oceanographic data,” said Dr. David Kimball, Interim Senior Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Rutgers.

Over the last three years, the Rutgers team led by Dr. Manish Parashar, Director of the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute and Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, designed, built and operated the OOI’s cyberinfrastructure. The team also included Dr. Scott Glenn and Dr. Oscar Schofield, Distinguished Professors in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences and co-founders of Rutgers’ Center for Ocean Observing Leadership, who led the Rutgers data team.

Since the project transitioned, Rutgers has deployed and operated a robust, secure, scalable and performant cyberinfrastructure with a 99.9% uptime, providing over 500 terabytes of scientific data and delivering thousands of years worth of time-series data to thousands of users globally.

For the second phase of the OOI project, which begins October 1, 2018 and runs for five years, Rutgers will receive approximately $6.6 million and will be responsible for maintaining the CI and providing a network that allows 24/7 connectivity, ensuring sustained, reliable worldwide ocean observing data any time, any place, on any computer or mobile device. Dr. Peggy Brennan-Tonetta, Associate Vice President for Economic Development at Rutgers’ Office of Research and Economic Development, will serve as the Acting Principal Investigator.

“Greater awareness and knowledge of the state of our oceans and the effects of their interrelated systems today is critical to a deeper understanding of our changing climate, marine and coastal ecosystems, atmospheric exchanges, and geodynamics. We are pleased to continue our involvement with this project that enables researchers to better understand the state of our oceans,” said Dr. Brennan-Tonetta.

The OOI’s ocean-based hardware consists of more than 800 various sensors, moorings, autonomous undersea gliders, and seafloor cables deployed in seven arrays at key locations in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The hardware generates a large variety and amount of information, images, and video. The project is a networked observatory of science-driven sensor systems to measure the physical, chemical, geological and biological variables of the ocean, seafloor and near-ocean atmosphere.