Mapping the deep waters

The University of Washington School of Oceanography is embarking on a new high tech way to understand the ocean floor. They’ve teamed up with government agencies and other institutions to map the deep waters of Puget Sound using sonar equipment.

TRANSCRIPT

DID YOU KNOW WE KNOW MORE ABOUT THE TOPOGRAPHY OF MARS, VENUS, AND THE MOON THAN WE DO ABOUT OUR OWN OCEAN FLOOR?

THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF OCEANOGRAPHY IS EMBARKING ON A NEW, HIGH-TECH WAY TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM.

THEY'VE TEAMED UP WITH GOVERNMENT AGENCIES AND OTHER INSTITUTIONS TO MAP THE DEEP WATERS OF PUGET SOUND USING HIGH-TECH SONAR EQUIPMENT, AND THEY MADE SOME IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES ALONG THE WAY.

OH, LOOK!

HEY!

WE FOUND THE SEAFLOOR.

WE FOUND THE SEAFLOOR.

IT'S WHERE WE THOUGHT IT WAS GONNA BE.

THE MOUSE IS UP.

THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON'S SCHOOL OF OCEANOGRAPHY IS ON A RESEARCH VESSEL TRAVELING THROUGH WASHINGTON STATE'S PUGET SOUND.

THE GOAL -- MAPPING THE OCEAN FLOOR.

MILES LOGSDON IS THE LEAD INSTRUCTOR ON THE CRUISE.

SO, PUGET SOUND IS -- OH, IT'S ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING -- OH, COME ON.

I'LL JUST BE ON IT.

IT IS THE MOST INTERESTING PLACE TO DO COASTAL OCEANOGRAPHY.

PUGET SOUND IS A BUSTLING URBAN INLET.

PARTS OF THE SOUND HAVEN'T BEEN MAPPED SINCE THE 1800s, AND MUCH OF IT HASN'T BEEN MAPPED AT ALL.

SO, WHEN WE START THINKING ABOUT HOW TO USE MARINE RESOURCES WISELY AND START GOING, 'LET'S PLAN AHEAD,' PEOPLE NEED DATA.

THEY NEED TO KNOW WHAT'S THERE, HOW MUCH VARIATION IS THERE.

MAPPING DATA'S NOT ONLY IMPORTANT FOR ECOLOGICAL REASONS BUT NAVIGATION, AS WELL.

THING IS, YOU CAN SEE FROM THOSE MAPS, WE'RE FOCUSING ON ABOUT THREE GENERAL SURVEY LOCATIONS, RIGHT?

WE'RE STILL IN THIS KIND OF TRAINING MODE, EVERYONE IS...

EMILY ROLAND IS A MARINE GEOPHYSICIST.

SHE'S HELPING LOGSDON TEACH STUDENTS HOW TO PERFORM HIGH-TECH MAPPING.

AND THEY ARE JUST DIVING IN.

THEY'RE ASKING LOTS OF QUESTIONS, AND THEY ARE REALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR RUNNING THE SHOW, AND THEY'RE DOING THAT.

THIS IS OUR FIRST DAY.

YEAH, I'VE GOT THE NIGHT SHIFT, SO WE'RE FROM MIDNIGHT TO 8:00 IN THE MORNING.

THIS IS MY FIRST, LIKE, ACTUAL RESEARCH-VESSEL EXPERIENCE.

USING THE EQUIPMENT IS A LOT BETTER LEARNING TOOL THAN JUST DOING, LIKE, LAB TESTS AND IN THE CLASSROOM.

SO, HOW DOES ONE MAP THE OCEAN FLOOR?

THROUGH SONAR TECHNOLOGY.

WE'RE LITERALLY PUTTING SOUND THROUGH THE WATER COLUMN, REFLECTING OFF THE SEAFLOOR, BACK UP TO OUR REMOTE SENSING DEVICE, WHICH IS OUR SHIP'S TRANSDUCER.

THAT'S WHAT WE CALL IT -- A MULTI-BEAM TRANSDUCER.

SINGLE-BEAM SONAR WORKS BY EMITTING A SOUND WAVE AND LISTENING FOR HOW LONG IT TAKES TO RETURN, LIKE AN ECHO.

IF YOU KNOW THE SPEED OF SOUND AND THE TIME IT TAKES, YOU CAN FIND THE DISTANCE THE SOUND WAVE TRAVELED.

HIGH-TECH MULTI-BEAM SONAR SYSTEMS WORK SIMILARLY, EXCEPT, INSTEAD OF LISTENING FOR JUST ONE ECHO, MICROPHONES PICK UP ECHOES FROM 426 DIFFERENT LOCATIONS EVERY SECOND.

THIS REACHES OUT TO 500 METERS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE SHIP.

COMPUTERS THEN STITCH ALL THOSE ECHOES TOGETHER, AND THE END RESULT IS A HIGH-REST 3-D MAP THAT GIVES US DETAILED DATA OF WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE OCEAN FLOOR.

SO, YOU CAN IMAGINE HOW RAPIDLY WE CAN MAP THINGS.

THEY'RE HOPING TO ADD THIS DATA TO THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION, OR NOAA'S, NAUTICAL CHARTS.

BUT THEY HAVE TO GET IT RIGHT.

TODAY, THEY'RE MAPPING THE MOUTH OF THE ELWHA RIVER, THE SITE OF THE NATION'S LARGEST DAM-REMOVAL PROJECT.

WE'RE ON THE NORTHERN KIND OF FLANK OF THE ELWHA DELTA HERE, AND WE'VE, OVERNIGHT, HAVE OBSERVED SOME PRETTY INTERESTING BED FORM FEATURES.

ROLAND AND THE STUDENTS HAVE DISCOVERED UNDERWATER SAND DUNES THAT RISE UP TO 125 METERS.

THAT SHOWS THAT THERE'S A LOT OF ENERGY COMING THROUGH THIS AREA.

SOMETHING IS CARVING AWAY OR REMOVING THE SEDIMENT THAT'S BEING DEPOSITED, AND WE THINK WE HAVE EXPOSED BED FORMS ALONG HERE, EXPOSED ROCK.

THE DATA COULD BE USED TO STUDY THE CHANGING GEOLOGY OF THE AREA, BUT DOES IT PASS NOAA'S STRICT STANDARDS?

SCIENTIST TOSHI WOZUMI IS ON BOARD ASSESSING THE DATA.

THE DATA THAT'S COMING IN IS LOOKING GOOD.

WE HAVE FULL BOTTOM COVERAGE WITH VERY GOOD OVERLAP AND VERY GOOD SOUNDING DENSITY.

WE'LL BE ABLE TO USE THIS DATA TO UPDATE OUR CHART.

STUDENTS ALSO FOUND SOMETHING UNEXPECTED.

SO, LAST NIGHT, WE WERE TRANSITING BETWEEN OUR SURVEY STATION AND LEARNING HOW TO PROCESS THE DATA, AND I FOUND THIS REALLY COOL SHIPWRECK RIGHT OFF OF POINT NO POINT.

AND WE CAN TELL THAT IT HAS A BOW HERE AND A HOUSE HERE.

THIS NEWLY DISCOVERED SHIPWRECK WILL BE ADDED TO NOAA'S PUBLIC NAUTICAL CHARTS, ALONG WITH THE MAPPING DATA.

THE TEAM ALSO COLLECTED SEDIMENT SAMPLES TO HELP MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN COMPUTER DATA AND WHAT'S ACTUALLY ON THE SEAFLOOR.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST DATA NEEDS THAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IS HOW CAN WE BETTER MANAGE OUR WATERS.

AND BY MANAGE IT, IT MEANS, LIKE, FROM RECREATIONAL USE, FISHERIES USE, MARINE-TRANSPORTATION USE, CARGO VESSELS.

SO WHEN WE CAN HELP DECISION-MAKERS SEE CRITICAL AREAS, IT MAKES ME FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT WHAT WE'RE DOING, RIGHT?