Massive UW Research Project to Monitor the Next Frontier: The Ocean

$126 million Ocean bottom R&D facility to change perceptions


Although three quarters of our planet is covered by ocean, we know less about it than we know about the surface of Mars. A better understanding of oceans, says John Delaney, UW professor of oceanography, will  "revolutionize our perception of the planet" and result greater insight into everything from the health of a $4 billion fishery to the dynamics driving climate change.

 Delaney, speaking at a FireGlobal conference run by technology forecaster Mark Anderson, pointed out that UW is spending $126 million on an ocean-floor laboratory  that will include dozens of instruments and hundreds of sensors connected by miles of fiber optic cable along the ocean floor. The project is the first of its kind, but will be followed by many other projects in other countries totaling at least $1.5 billion.

 The project will generate advances in robotics and instrumentation that the scientists will use to explore the ocean floor. Those instruments will send high definition images of the ocean that will allow scientists to explore and study the ocean in ways that were impossible when ocean exploration was limited by the need to remain close to a single boat at a specific moment in time.

Delaney expects to see ten or more of these ocean floor research labs developed over the next 30 years. Companies that develop technology for the UW project may have opportunities in future developments.

But the real benefits of the research in Oceans are hard to predict. Among some of the major benefits will be a better understanding of the forces driving global warming (such as the oceans capacity to absorb carbond dioxide) and the elements of the ocean ecosystem that affects the health of fisheries, a major source of income in the Northwest.

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