Technology Today

2011 Issue 2

A Collaborative Effort in a System-of-Systems:
The Ocean Observatories Initiative

The oceans cover approximately 72 percent of the Earth's surface. They are where the planet stores vast amounts of heat and a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Increasingly, natural resources such as oil and minerals are being found throughout our oceans. The oceans drive our weather and are related to key climate processes. Yet we know little about the complex ocean ecosystem that so profoundly affects life on the planet. Figure 1 provides a perspective of the multiple interactive processes that influence the ocean environment.

Given the vastness of the oceans and the need for a greater understanding of ocean processes, oceanographers in the United States have recently begun a large-scale engineering program, a system-of-systems, called the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The OOI program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is planned as a networked infrastructure of sensor systems that will address vital science questions by measuring physical, chemical, geological and biological variables of the ocean. The OOI will provide research scientists, educators, students and the public with unparalleled access to the physical, chemical, geological and biological phenomena of the ocean. Raytheon engineers have been working closely with a number of organizations involved in the program.

Ocean Chart

The OOI's focuses on the following scientific themes:

  • Ocean-atmosphere exchange.
  • Climate variability, ocean circulation and ecosystems.
  • Turbulent mixing and biophysical interactions.
  • Coastal ocean dynamics and ecosystems.
  • Fluid-rock interactions and the sub-seafloor biosphere.
  • Plate-scale ocean geodynamics.
Creating Partnerships

Gaining insight in these scientific focus areas will allow the OOI program to address a set of broader environmental concerns, including the need for an increased understanding of coastal ocean ecosystem health, climate change, carbon cycling, and ocean acidification. For example, the OOI may provide insight into the "ocean conveyor" (Figure 2). The ocean conveyor is of keen interest to scientists because these circulating ocean currents move heat throughout the planet and weather patterns may be affected if shifts occur in the conveyor.

Figure 2

The expertise needed to construct and manage the OOI will come from a variety of entities in the public and private sectors. The OOI program is managed and coordinated by the OOI Project Office at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) in Washington, D.C. The Consortium is responsible for construction and initial operation of the OOI network.

Four implementing organizations are responsible for construction and development of the overall program. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) with its partners — Oregon State University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography — is responsible for the coastal and global arrays and their autonomous vehicles. The University of Washington is responsible for regional cabled seafloor systems and moorings. The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), implements the cyberinfrastructure component. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is responsible for the education and public engagement software infrastructure.

Raytheon provides specific engineering services and process rigor to COL and to three of the implementing organizations (WHOI, UCSD, and Rutgers). In varying degrees, Raytheon provides systems engineering, systems architecture, design engineering, technical management and planning, schedule assistance, and risk and opportunity management.

Developing a System-of-Systems

The OOI is global in scale. Various team members are involved with the construction of the infrastructure, which includes arrays of buoys, moorings, profilers and autonomous vehicles. Measurements and data delivery are enabled by a variety of sensors and related cyberinfrastructure. The system will be capable of collecting many different classes of measurements using approximately 800 instruments of 49 different types deployed on a variety of platforms, some of which are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

It is important to note that mobile platforms, such as profilers, gliders and autonomous underwater vehicles, will be used and that the cyberinfastructure will be able to task some of these mobile assets to enable adaptive sampling. Sensors range from traditional instruments that collect information on pH, dissolved oxygen and temperature, to hydrophones, digital cameras and bioacoustic equipment.

Figure 4

As shown in Figure 4, the system will have infrastructure at multiple key geographic locations:

  • Four global scale arrays at high latitudes.
  • Three regional scale nodes in one area off the North American Pacific coast.
  • Two coastal scale arrays, one on each North American coast.

Figure 5 is an illustration of how one of the arrays, the Pioneer Array, will operate. The Pioneer Array will be relocatable should scientists wish to gather data at a different geographic site. It will initially be located off the U.S. Atlantic coast along the continental shelf break.

These array elements will be connected via a cyberinfrastructure, enabling command and control, adaptive sampling, data distribution, collaborative analysis, and a variety of interfaces for users. UCSD is building the cyberinfrastructure component of the OOI program with Raytheon's support.

It is important to note that the OOI will collect data along a continuum of time and geographic scale. At limited, yet key, coastal, regional and global sites, measurements will be taken continuously. Sustained ocean observations and interactions that span decades rather than days will allow ocean exploration and discovery to move into previously unimaginable realms. This interactive, integrated system will increase our knowledge of vital ocean processes. Greater knowledge of the ocean's interrelated systems is vital for increased understanding of the effects on biodiversity, ocean and coastal ecosystems, ecosystem health and climate change. The OOI data are expected to be a part of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) and ultimately part of the ocean component of the broader Global Earth Observing System-of-Systems.

Figure 5

In this highly collaborative effort, each of the various entities brings a different kind of insight, diligence and expertise. As Raytheon engineers contribute to this pivotal study of the world's oceans, they are both challenged and inspired. Through partnerships such as these, our engineers are developing and refining the system-of-systems engineering skills desired by customers from both our traditional and non-traditional markets.

Diane Mahoney,
Al Plueddemann

Author Affiliation: Dr. Albert J. Plueddemann
Project Scientist , OOI Pioneer Array
Department of Physical Oceanography
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, Mass.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement OCE-0957938 and Cooperative Supporting Agreements OCE-1005697 and OCE-0964093.

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