The ocean floor's first permanent laboratory is powered up and ready to start experiments. Making use of a discarded telephone cable running between California and Hawaii, researchers have been able to provide power and communication to instruments that will monitor everything from earthquakes to whale clicks.
"One of the big problems in doing experiments on the sea floor is trying to obtain power over long periods of time," says Robert Gagosian, director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). As an added hassle, ships must travel back and forth to retrieve the data. About 7 years ago, WHOI's Alan Chave and his colleagues began wondering if it would be possible to use old telephone cables as a huge extension cord that instruments could simply plug into and collect data permanently.
Scientists from the University of Hawaii and WHOI used a remote submersible to cut the copper telephone cable and drag one end up to a ship. They fitted the cable with a junction box--essentially, eight outlets that instruments can tap into for power. Already, researchers have connected a seismometer and hope to hook up acoustic listening devices and current sensors. The setup will allow researchers to receive data in real time, via the Internet.