VIMS premieres new ocean observatories course

A new course at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) will give students in the Institute's School of Marine Science an exceptional opportunity to learn about ocean observing systems, the latest tool in the world of marine research.

The course, Ocean Observing Systems: Technology and Applications, is one of only a handful of such courses currently being offered in the United States. It was developed and is being taught by VIMS Associate Professor Dr. Mark Patterson, a leading expert in the design and use of autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs.

Implementation of a nationwide ocean-observing network was one of the twelve critical actions recommended in the recent report by the President's Commission on Ocean Policy. Integrated ocean observatories will provide services at sea similar to those now provided by the global network of weather sensors, helping society to better deal with episodic events such as tsunamis and hurricanes, and to better understand and predict the ocean's long-term impacts on climate, shipping, and fisheries production.

The goal of the course, says Patterson, is "to prepare students for their likely role in future research by making them expert in ocean observing system technology and applications." Students will explore the nuts and bolts of ocean observatories, including hardware components, sensors and navigation techniques for mobile platforms, integration of observatory data with computer models, and data management, as well as the important policy issues and societal expectations for these systems.

The course includes weekly hands-on experience with the AUV Fetch, a 6-foot robot sub that Patterson helped develop through his technology spin-off company Sias Patterson LLC. Vehicles like Fetch are finding increasing use in applications as diverse as fisheries management, homeland security, and assessment of harmful algal blooms. Sias Patterson LLC is providing Fetch at no cost through a cooperative arrangement with the College of William and Mary.

Students will also gain hands-on experience by working with VIMS' York River data buoy and other fixed sensor platforms, as well as the data available on-line via other ocean observatories around the world. These include the Chesapeake Bay Observing System (CBOS), SEA-COOS along the Southeast Atlantic coast, TABS in the Gulf of Mexico, CalCOFI on the West Coast, NEPTUNE Canada, and the European Seafloor Observatory Network (ESONET). The research community's ultimate goal is to create a Global Ocean Observing System, or GOOS.

Dean of Graduate Studies Iris Anderson praises the course, noting that "it provides our students with an exciting opportunity to keep on the cutting edge of marine research."

Funds for course development came from VIMS, with additional contributions from members of the VIMS/Ocean Industry Partnership Group.

For more information on ocean observatories, visit the Virginia Estuarine and Coastal Ocean Observing System (VECOS).