IRCCM Ocean Observatory
About Video Archive Science Partners Baltic Observatory

Scientific rationale

Learn more about our project,
IRCCM's ocean observatory in the North Pacific.

Our present knowledge about the functioning of the ocean in the earth system is mainly based on seagoing expeditions and shipboard operation of equipment. The data sets thus obtained are constrained in time and space, and generally lack sufficient knowledge of the temporal and spatial variability of parameters. As the importance of the oceans to society grows, so does the need to understand their variation on many temporal and spatial scales. Long term observing systems will enable the study of processes in the ocean over varying timescales and spatial scales, providing the scientific basis for addressing important societal concerns such as climate change, natural hazards, industrial exploitation and the health and viability of living and non-living resources along our coasts and in the open ocean.

Cooperation in research

Internet-operated Robots: A new paradigm of
oceanography research

The cooperation in the construction of an ocean observatory network will provide the IRCCM with a new view of the oceans and offer innovative approaches to both the discovery and testing of oceanic processes and to new kinds of monitoring capabilities around offshore installations. These observatories are identified as prime instrumentation to address the scientific questions of the IRCCM related to continental margin research in general, and observational and experimental oceanography in combination with geoscientific process studies and modeling in particular. So far several pilot projects have successfully installed or will install seafloor observatories using newly developed junction boxes and fiber-optic cable protocols. IRCCM is actively involved in three major programs dedicated to cabled long term observatories: a US/Canadian approach for the investigation of a whole tectonic plate, the NEPTUNE program; the US MARS program, which develops a near-shore deep-sea observatory as a proof-of-concept site for future regional cabled observatories; and the EU ESONET program, with stations monitoring the rocks, sediments, bottom water, biology and events in the water column within European waters.

New approaches

For these studies new operational paradigms are required which are now made possible by the recent advances and on-going developments in computer, communication, power, sensor and robotics technologies. Current developments in technology aiming at the construction of long-term autonomous sea bed observatory systems are: development and installation of long-term sensor packages, advanced digital camera systems, auto-analyzers, tele-operated robots, and advanced power technology (e.g. fuel cells). Land based computer aided applications and advanced modeling of data need further development. From the point of cost, it appears necessary to look for existing infrastructures that can be used to test the envisaged miniaturized and robotized seafloor observatories. Future observatories require the capability to study processes of meso-scale dimensions which can only be addressed by autonomous vehicles such as sea floor crawlers (typical range 10-1000 m) and AUVs (typical range 1-100 km). Such systems should be incorporated into the observatory network. Special docking stations have to be designed to recharge the instruments and to download data sets. The development of a multitude of robotic functions is inevitable in this context. The system consists of one central station with internet/power connection to land and several small tele-operated robots, which move along the seafloor and measure carbon/methane turnover rates.

The Internet operated vehicle

In 2003 IRCCM partners Jacobs University (coordination, crawler design, general instrument setup, mechanical construction), TU-HH (development of control electronics, benthic chamber), RCOM (acoustics), MPI (microsensors), Ifm-Geomar (joint US MARS/NEPTUNE project) and University of Washington (coordinator NEPTUNE) as well as the NIOZ (lander design, Schlieren optics) and the SME Meerestechnik Bremen (general layout of control and data transfer) started the project. The aim of the development was to build the first prototype of an internet operated vehicle (IOV) with the capability to move along the seafloor by video control and to carry out detailed investigations on fluid –and particle fluxes in the benthic boundary layer. The Crawler is small (˜ 50x50x30 cm / 20x20x11 inch), versatile, tele-operated and capable of carrying a scientific payload of up to 30 kg. Even an untrained user is able to direct the IOV from any internet connected computer. The IOV is connected to the internet via a junction box (node) within an underwater network or via an Ethernet/power connection at a Statoil ASA offshore installation. The connection to a node should be established by the use of a ROV. Once connected the system should remain on the seafloor for extended periods of several months to study the temporal and spatial variations at a given location in the deep sea. For the IRCCM ocean observatory three crawlers will be built, each equipped with different sensor systems. All crawlers will be connected to one central instrument system (lander), which is located up to 100 m away from the node, carrying additional sensors and transfers the data of the IOVs to the land based data center or offshore installation. Ocean Observatory is one of several projects of IRCCM, the International Research Consortium on Continental Margins. Obtain more information here.

IRCCM Partners:
Alfred-Wegener- Institute IfM-Geomar
Ifremer Integrated Exploration Systems
Jacobs University Bremen Neptune
Max-Planck-Institute for Marine Rice University
University of Southampton Statoil
RCOM Technical University Hamburg Harburg
University of Bremen University of New Hampshire
University of Washington
The project is supported by STATOIL.