Moss Landing – In a lab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Electrical Engineer Paul McGill is taking apart an electronics module he recently pulled up from the floor of the Monterey Bay. The module has two spheres. One holds a battery, the other a computer to collect data. Below the surface this module connects to a seismometer buried in the ocean's floor. "It measures north south movement, east west movement and up and down movement. And the seismologists can use those motions to tell when an earthquake occurred, where an earthquake occurred and what kind of earthquake it was. Was it two plates shifting past each other? Was it one plate diving under another plate? It's amazing what they can deduce from this information," said McGill.
It's one of the few seismometers off the coast of California. Most are on land. Every four months, McGill heads out about 25 miles off shore to retrieve the module and replace it with one that has a fresh battery and an empty hard disk.
He then sends the four months worth of data to seismologists at UC Berkeley.
"So right now this is the only copy of the data, and I won't sleep well until I get it backed up on at least two DVDs and one copy sent to Berkeley," said McGill
But soon he will be able to sleep tight every night.
Earlier this month, MBARI installed a new deep sea observatory called the Monterey Accelerated Research System or MARS. It's 3000-feet below the ocean's surface in the Monterey Bay. MARS is like an enormous power strip that provides a continuous source of power and a data connection through an underground cable that leads back to shore. Keith Raybold is the Project Manager, "What it allows you to do with this continued presence is to see what's happening on a continuous basis. If you were say, visiting the deserts in the middle of the summer, you may imagine that they were 100, 110 degrees the entire year if you only went once a year and you went in July of every year. A lot of things that would happen that you'd miss unless you had that continued presence there."
MARS is the first deep sea observatory off the coast of the continental United States. It will allow MBARI to embark on new research projects and improve upon research already underway, like the seafloor seismometer. Once McGill connects the seismometer to MARS, he will no longer have to replace batteries and hard disks every four months. And he will be able to collect the data in real-time, which will compliment real-time data from land seismometers and create a more complete picture of an earthquake.
The seafloor seismometer will plug into MARS early next year. Up to Eight experiments can be plugged in at one time.