Wiring the Jersey Coast

In one spot on the continental shelf, scientists aim to understand all that happens, 24 hours a day


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LEO-15 is a first-generation instrument system, easily serviced by divers. Once all the bugs are worked out, the Rutgers group plans more ambitious observatories, at 100 feet, 330 feet and 8,200 feet down. Similar stations are being installed elsewhere: a global Seafloor Observatory is taking shape, especially in the waters off Japan and the West Coast of the United States, where packages of seismographic and oceanographic instruments placed on the bottom are serviced by remotely operated vehicles. One of the latest is a package put on the bottom of Monterey Bay, 3,300 feet down, by an international collaboration led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California.

In the LEO-15 room at the shore station, computer monitors report real-time conditions out at Node B, and others track whichever REMUS is in motion at the moment. In another room, computer wizards turn mountains of data into "movies" of cold-water upwellings along New Jersey beaches. Von Alt prepares to return to Woods Hole; Grassle packs for a trip to Washington, D.C. to testify before a House subcommittee. The 48-foot Arabella, the 30-foot Caleta and the chartered Northstar 4 return to their docks after spending the day lowering and towing instruments to supplement the LEO-15 data. After censusing fish populations in the back bays and the Mullica, five small boats unload their nets. Scientists, graduate students and postdocs, and undergraduate interns joke about the trials and tribulations of another day at sea. Little by little they disperse, walking down a long causeway to where their cars are parked. The station quiets. Five miles out at sea, however, odd-looking scientific instruments continue to pour data down the fiber-optic pipeline. LEO-15 never sleeps.

By John P. Wiley, Jr.


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