MBARI grant for robotic floats, rendering

Illustration of the SOCCOM float observing system showing the deploying ship track along with float trajectories and communication of the float data back to land through satellites. 

Considering how interconnected and small the world feels, much of the ocean goes surprisingly unmonitored by scientists. Decades pass between visits by research vessels even in some ocean regions that are critical to our understanding of the climate crisis and the state of ocean fisheries. 

The lapse in ocean data will soon be corrected thanks to a massive new effort being coordinated by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute out of Moss Landing. 

MBARI and partnering oceanographic research centers received a $52.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation on Oct. 29 to build and deploy a global network of 500 robotic floats equipped with advanced sensors.

In a statement, MBARI President and CEO Chris Scholin said the project will supply “critical information about ocean health, in near real-time” to researchers, educators and policymakers. 

“This innovative biogeochemical sensing technology, developed at MBARI, is transforming our ability to understand and predict how the global ocean is being impacted by climate change,” he said.

Collectively known as the Global Ocean Biogeochemistry Array, these ocean-monitoring floats will collect information from the surface to a depth of 2,000 meters. The sensors on the floats will measure temperature, depth, salinity, oxygen concentration, ocean acidity, nitrate levels, sunlight, and other factors. 

MBARI’s role in the project will be coordination among the partners, refining the sensors, processing data from the floats and communicating with the public. The responsibility over manufacturing and deploying the floats and other areas will fall on the University of Washington, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Princeton University. 

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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