Located 9-Kilometers off the coast of New
Jersey, near Tuckerton, the LEO-15 research node stations
provide real time data from the edge of the continental shelf,
an area of significant importance in our understanding of
coastal-open ocean interactions. (larger
LEO-15 is designed to collect oceanographic
data with high temporal resolution these data encompass
in situ , remotely sensed and meteorological types,
derived from multiple agencies and platforms. (larger
At the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS)
at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the home of
Research Program (NURP) Mid-Atlantic Bight Center, oceanographers
are observing the ocean, each day taking in the Mid-Atlantic Bight
from a fish's eye view. It's a perspective afforded by a cabled
ocean-based Long-Term Ecosystem observatory, better known as LEO-15
because of its placement in 15-meters of water off the coast of
New Jersey, near Tuckerton. With data gathered from LEO-15 and its
support vehicles, these oceanographers are coming to better understand
at least this one little pocket of the Atlantic. Their objective
is to learn what they may of the forces that govern coastal waters;
of the factors, manmade and natural, that are contributing to the
decline in health of the oceans; and of how to more fully and wisely
take advantage of the oceans' considerable resources. In so doing,
they're consistently revealing new mysteries, the results of which
may improve our lives in ways we can't yet imagine.
A primary objective of those involved in the operation
of LEO-15, and of a cadre of committed oceanographers across the
country, is to build a complementary system in a growing network
of national observatories all along our coastal waters.
"LEO-15's greatest success," says Mike De
Luca, "has been in demonstrating that the scientific community
can provide information at the temporal and spatial scales necessary
to improve environmental decision-making." De Luca is senior
associate director of IMCS as well as Director of the NOAA Undersea
Research Program's Mid-Atlantic Bight center. "Our efforts
now are on scaling LEO-15 up," De Luca continues, "and
on building a national network of observatory systems."
De Luca and his colleagues are hopeful.
"Congress is interested," says Larry Atkinson,
former National Science Foundation liaison for the
National Office for Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observations,
or Ocean.US, and Director of the Center for Coastal Physical
Oceanography at Old Dominion University. "The commission on
ocean policy is recommending it; we now have the technical ability
to do it, and a lot of people have the need."
While most or all observatories will contribute data
toward a national, and global, perspective of the oceans, there
is not a one-size-fits-all observatory; each must be capable of
responding to specific regional needs.
"This discussion on how to construct
a national network of coastal observing systems has been going
on for several years now," says De Luca, "and LEO-15
is the model on which these discussions align."
"We want to have more of the operations and the
decision-making done at the local level, Atkinson explains, while
still providing a national backbone, because there are a lot of
things everybody needs wind speeds, surface temperatures, sea
"If you look at the Gulf of Mexico, they would
probably focus more on near-shore fisheries and oil-spill risks,
whereas off New Jersey it might be more search and rescue, recreation
and concerns with hypoxia."
Recently, Ocean.US brought together regional associations
dedicated to a national network of observatories. Each association
presented an overview of their regional efforts, and a list of priorities
for establishing a national federation was drafted. As Scott Glenn,
professor of physical oceanography at IMCS, put it, "This was
viewed by everyone I talked to as a major positive step forward
the first time the entire U.S. coastal community came together
for this purpose."
Cooperation among regions is absolutely of the essence.
Without the capacity and disposition of each regional observatory
to communicate what it sees, there can be no network.
"We are developing that sense of community,"
says Oscar Schofield, a biological oceanographer and professor at
IMCS. And that's what it's all about.
"LEO-15 started out as a research observatory,"
says De Luca, "and we're now trying to transfer it into a coastal
ocean observing system, which would entail more routine
operations, collections of data for very specific purposes as dictated
by user needs industry, government agencies, and other academic
This new role for LEO-15 required a significant upgrade
in 2005 to ensure that the observatory continued to support undersea
research programs, that it would integrate into the emerging network
of coastal ocean observing systems, and that LEO-15 continued to
serve as a proving ground for emerging sampling and sensing technology.
The upgrades addressed a variety of technical issues associated
with power, communications, the software operating system, autoprofiling
and maintenance of connections to the electro-optic cable that connects
LEO-15 to the Internet.
This is one of the two LEO-15
nodes. The nodes are linked to the Rutgers Marine Field
Station in Tuckerton , NJ , with an electro-optic cable, providing
a real time connection between the undersea world and the
Port Simulators replicate in the laboratory
the Ethernet science ports aboard LEO-15, allowing researchers
to test equipment prior to installation on the nodes.
"There's a great deal of effort underway worldwide
to build observatories," says Schofield, "and not just
cable systems radar systems, for example, leading to new ways
to do search and rescue or to assist in national defense."
Another area of considerable interest is the effects
of sea breeze on power usage.
"When there's a sea breeze," Schofield elaborates,
"you don't turn on your air conditioning. So there's a log
of interest in gauging and monitoring breeze. Power companies buy
energy in advance, but they do it without any strong sense of whether
there will be a sea breeze or not. There's a potential there to
save millions of dollars in being able to make those predictions.
We've gotten a lot better at predicting the weather, and a major
reason for that is observatories."
"The traditional way to do oceanography is with
cables," Schofield adds, "but that only gives you a point
in space. This is a big lesson we've taken from LEO-15. We need
to have spatial, real-time data and it needs to be of scientific
"This discussion on how to construct a national
network of coastal observing systems has been going on for several
years now," says De Luca, "and LEO-15 is the model on
which these discussions align."
The NOAA Undersea Research Program (NURP) is assuming
a leading and active role in the development of a networked observatory
system. NURP-supported observatories through its regional centers
include LEO-15 as well as Aquarius and the soon to be formed Gulf
of Mexico Gas Hydrates Seafloor Observatory. NURP's National Institute
of Undersea Science and Technology, provides expertise in undersea
vehicle design and development, in addition to opening new grounds
in undersea research engineering and biotechnology.
Other participants would include academic institutions,
government agencies and industry.
"The idea," Larry Atkinson explains, "is,
first, to provide some modest funding to get regions organized.
The second part is to provide funds to try out some new observing
systems that might be in the research stage now, that could perhaps
be moved into a pilot-project stage and have them tested a little
"I think everybody agrees having the regions
do this is the best approach. But the regions must first self-organize.
It could be a different kind of organizational structure in each
"The view right now is that while there's a lot
of observing being done, because it's not well integrated it's very
difficult to get at all the different forms of data from remote
sensing to fish counts and use it for both research and management.
So by creating an integrated observing system you provide a way
to integrate these data sources.
The requisite technology is improving, and costs are
coming down. Still, cable is very expensive. "Fiber optics
will get you what you want," Schofield says, "but we're
never going to have the money to completely cable with fiber optics.
We need to use satellites and AUVs, which are, relatively speaking,
Much work remains to be done. "We've got a long
ways to go," Atkinson allows. The drive, though, is there.
"We seem to be getting over the hump; the politicians see the
advantages. There are some studies now being funded that are addressing
the economic benefits.
"It's a great way to do science, and it's also
a great way to help people who support us. Do I want to go fishing
tomorrow?' Where?'" these are the sorts of questions an
observing system could help answer for the general public.
"The issues of how we observe the ocean are being
researched with LEO-15," says Atkinson. "LEO-15 is a research
"In the end, there isn't going to be a LEO-15
site every 15 miles. We need to find more economical ways of doing
this. What LEO-15 has shown though is how you can take an incredibly
diverse suite of information and bring it in and blend it into a
model so that you can actually visualize a chunk of the ocean."
Is he optimistic?
"I'd have to be; otherwise I'd go nuts. We're
trying to figure out how to do things interagency and weave them
through our government. It's a challenge. How to engage private
industry is another big challenge. We just hope to get some early
small successes. If a region can show that they're getting organized
and get some pilot projects going, then show that there can be some
data sharing between the regional groups and federal agencies
that'll be the key."