Understanding the Planetary Life Support System: Next Generation Science in the Ocean Basins

John Delaney
Professor of Oceanography

University of Washington

Friday, Apr. 26, 2013, 3:00pm
New Hampshire Hall, Room 208

Driven by solar and internal geothermal energy, the complex processes interacting within the global ocean constitute the ‘flywheel’ of our planetary life-support system; it is the massive volume of the ocean that drives long-term weather and short-term climatic variations across the seas and onto the continents. Entirely new approaches to understanding the complexity, power, and vagaries of this ‘oceanic modulator’ are arising from the rapid implementation and use of submarine cabled networks that will provide unprecedented electrical power and bandwidth to thousands of increasingly sophisticated robot-sensor systems distributed throughout full-ocean environments. Partly triggered by the advent of a growing number of these cabled research systems, oceanographers are benefiting from a host of emergent technologies largely driven by communities external to the world of ocean sciences. Important developments include: robotics, biotechnology, cloud computing, in situ chemical and genomic sensors, digital imaging, nanotechnology, serious gaming, new visualization technologies, computational simulations and data assimilation, seismo-acoustic tomography, and universal access to the Internet. Far more powerful than any one of these emerging technologies will be the convergence of the ensemble applied to Ocean Sciences. As these rapidly evolving capabilities are integrated into sophisticated, remote, interactive operations, a pervasive human telepresence throughout entire volumes of our, once ‘inaccessible’ global ocean will be realized. Such capabilities will be required to meet the onset of immense environmental and societal challenges in the coming decades that can only be addressed through optimally informed international collaboration.


John R. Delaney
Professor of Oceanography, University of Washington
Principal Investigator and Director, Regional Scale Nodes Program
Jerome M. Paros Endowed Chair in Sensor Networks

John Delaney joined the faculty of the University of Washington's School of Oceanography in 1977. He is a Professor of Oceanography and holds the Jerome M. Paros Endowed Chair in Sensor Networks. He is a passionate and tenacious advocate for launching next-generation ocean science and educational capabilities. Success depends upon using new approaches made possible by distributed robot-sensor networks throughout the oceanic environment. (See A 2020 Vision for Ocean Science.) Such networks will enable adaptive, real-time interactive research on energetic and episodic natural phenomena operating throughout the world's oceans. This approach is exemplified by the National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative. The regional program within this NSF Initiative is known as the Regional Scale Nodes, an innovative, cabled network of instruments in the northeast Pacific Ocean. John Delaney leads the team at the University of Washington that has been charged with construction of this network, which was initially known as NEPTUNE. He often gives public lectures on the potential of new technologies to revolutionize ocean science and education.