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News Release 98-056

Nearshore Observatory Leads to Long-Term Meteorological and Oceanographic Studies

Real-Time Data to Be Shared Via the World Wide Web and Internet

September 24, 1998

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Real-time data on coastal storms, on movement of sand that buries harbor entrances and inlets, and on the impact of winds on shoreline processes will soon be available through a new nearshore observatory planned off the south coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are undertaking the project.

"As oceanography continues to evolve from an exploratory endeavor, requiring long-term, multi-parameter measurements, the ability to make observations of ocean processes over periods of years is becoming increasingly important," says Larry Clark, program director in NSF's division of ocean sciences, which funded the project. "Recent technological advances have enabled the establishment of seafloor observatories that are connected to shore by a dedicated cable. The ability to continuously receive and record oceanographic data and communicate with scientific instruments on the seafloor promises to advance ocean science knowledge and predictive capabilities."

The Katama Observatory will be developed, built and installed off Edgartown on the island's south coast. The observatory will collect information 24 hours a day for studies of coastal meteorology, air-sea interaction, sediment transport, benthic biological processes, and gas transfer. The data will be shared in real-time with local officials, students, other scientists, and the public through the Internet.

The observatory will be barely visible to the public, since much of the hardware will be offshore and all cables will be underground. It will consist of a small shore station, a 20-foot tall meteorological mast with atmospheric sensors, and two nodes for oceanic sensors located on the seafloor in approximately 35 and 50 feet of water. The shore station will be located above the highest high-tide mark at the Katama Air Park in Edgartown near the hanger facilities. The shore station will be connected to the existing local power lines and will also have a backup generator that will automatically engage during power failures, such as during hurricanes and Nor'easters. An instrumented mast will be erected close to shore to provide a continuous stream of atmospheric data, such as wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity, solar and infrared radiation, and carbon dioxide concentrations. The meteorological mast will look much like a heavy-duty flag pole and is expected to be placed near the Katama Lifeguard House. It will be the first extensively instrumented nearshore meteorological station in the region.

The shore station, meteorological mast, and oceanic nodes will be connected together with underground cable that will be placed beneath the airfield runway, under Herring Creek, Atlantic Drive, the dunes, and South Beach. The cable will be installed through a technique called directional drilling and will run underground from the shore station, under the beach and out to sea, such that no part of the cable is visible.

Data from all sensors will be transmitted via the cable from the nodes to a computer in the shore station, where it will be logged continuously and made available to scientists and the public through Internet connections.


Media Contacts
Cheryl L. Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:
Shelley Lauzon, WHOI, (508) 289-2270, email:

Program Contacts
H. Lawrence Clark, NSF, (703) 292-8582, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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