Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Press Room
16 August 2005

MARS ocean observatory update—
Preparing the main science node

During the spring and summer of 2005, MBARI has been working on a key element of the first deep-sea ocean observatory in North America—the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS). Like the Hubble Space Telescope, the MARS observatory will be located in an almost inaccessible location, about 35 kilometers (20 miles) from shore and 900 meters (3,000 feet) below the sea surface. For this reason, the observatory will not house any people, but will be operated remotely through an undersea data and power cable. One of the most important parts of this system is the main "science node," which will sit at the end of the cable, serving as a network hub and an electrical substation on the deep seafloor.

This map shows the proposed location of the MARS science node (red dot) on the seafloor of Monterey Bay. It also shows the proposed route for the undersea cable that will provide a data and power connection between the science node and MBARI's shore facilities at Moss Landing. Image: (c) 2004 MBARI

A variety of scientific equipment will be attached to the MARS science node, using extension cables that could be up to 4 km (2.5 miles) long. This scientific equipment might include video cameras, sea-bottom seismometers, current meters, and even undersea robots. After attaching their instruments to the science node, scientists from around the world will be able to obtain data from these instruments through the internet.

Three years after receiving funding from the National Science Foundation, the MARS project is currently undergoing environmental impact review by state and federal agencies. If these agencies approve the project, the main MARS cable will be installed in late 2005 and the first scientific instruments will be attached in 2006.

Over the last four months, MBARI staff have been busy testing and preparing the MARS science node for its deployment in Monterey Bay. The following photos illustrate some highlights of this process.

In April 2005, technicians at L-3 MariPro (a private marine technology firm) finished construction of the MARS science node. In this photo you can see that the node has two parts: a removable inner module (yellow) that contains all of the wiring and electronics and an outer metal frame (red) that protects the node from damage due to fishing nets. Image: (c) 2005 Nautronics MariPro

In May 2005, the trawl-resistent frame for the MARS node was delivered to MBARI on a large flatbed truck. This was no easy ride, since the frame is about twelve feet wide, fifteen feet long, and four feet tall. Here the frame is waiting to be transferred into a staging area at MBARI (the cars nearby had to be moved first). Image: Lisa Borok (c) 2005 MBARI

In June 2005, the trawl-resistent frame was lowered carefully into the MBARI test tank so that the pilots of MBARI remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Ventana could practice installing a "dummy" electronics module. Image: Todd Walsh (c) 2005 MBARI

This photo, also taken in June 2005, shows the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Ventana in the test tank with the science node. MBARI's ROV pilots used ROV Ventana to practice installing a "dummy" electronics module (suspended beneath the ROV) into the trawl-resistent frame. Image: Kim Fulton-Bennett (c) 2005 MBARI

In early August 2005, MBARI electronics technicians Dick Littlefield and Jose Rosal prepared the wiring for the MARS data hub and power-supply. The completed package will sit inside the long stainless steel cylinder, which is designed to protect the delicate electronics from the crushing pressure of the deep sea. Image: Kim Fulton-Bennett (c) 2005 MBARI

For more information on the MARS project, please see the MARS project web pages or contact Kim Fulton-Bennett:    (831) 775-1835, kfb@mbari.org

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