How Does the COOLroom Work? - Making a virtual movie with LEO
Wouldn't it be cool if we could observe a section of the ocean as easily as we can observe a self-contained environment like a fish tank? We could press our face to the glass and watch the patterns made by schools of fish following a food-source. We could dip a thermometer into the water and see what the temperature is at different depths. We could experiment and see what happens when a fan on the edge of the tank is turned on creating waves. And we could run a movie camera 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to see how this tiny world changes over time.
But we can't. So the oceanographers at Rutgers have built a complex cluster of instruments called LEO in a 30 x 30 kilometer section of the ocean off Brigantine, New Jersey. The data collected is complemented by data collected from the surface using satellites, airplanes, boats and underwater robots. As a result, scientists are gaining a detailed and comprehensive picture of what is happening in the coastal ocean. In fact, that is how LEO received its name, Long-Term Ecosystem Observatory. This approach is proving to be so successful that the scientific community is hoping to one day expand it to the entire US coastline.
LEO is a unique solution to a difficult problem. Traditionally, scientists have studied the ocean by conducting expedition-based research, in which a research vessel spends several weeks or months at sea collecting samples, deploying instruments which need to be retrieved later, and not knowing the results until they return. With LEO, scientists have figured out a way to be in constant connection to the same area of the ocean. As a result, they can monitor the area over time and make instant adjustments to experiments as their understanding of the ocean area grows.
Through LEO, scientists are gathering information on light, temperature, salinity levels, currents at intervals of 10-20 inches from the bottom of the ocean to its surface, wave heights, sediment transport, plankton blooms (using optic sensors to detect the fluorescence in phytoplankton), and a variety of chemical characteristics. Check out the real-time data being collected by the LEO instruments today.
LEO's future directions Pioneered at Rutgers' Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, the LEO approach of observing one section of the ocean continuously over time is gathering momentum. Every year, more scientists get involved and the area being studied expands. Data collection technology continues to improve every year. Underwater gliders can now be sent out to collect information for several weeks at a time over hundreds of kilometers, and satellites can now sense the earth down to the meter. Node systems are being planned for the Pacific Ocean and elsewhere. Our exploration and understanding of the ocean is only limited to the imagination of those who choose to study this underwater world. Oceanographers are pushing the frontiers of inner space. Where do you think the future of ocean exploration will take us? How does LEO work? Scientists have created two undersea "hubs" -- Node A and Node B -- that are about the size of a soda machine. The nodes have been placed 5.5 miles offshore and are responsible for transferring information to and from the Rutgers Marine Field Station in Tuckerton, New Jersey, and to and from the instruments in the ocean. They work by using optic cables to transfer video, sound and data and copper wires to transfer power. Take a look at a diagram of the Rutgers LEO system and check out a description of the types of instruments used by Rutgers and other Long Term Ecosystem Ovservatories.