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Illuminating the Hidden Planet: THE FUTURE OF SEAFLOOR OBSERVATORY SCIENCE
Overall feasibility of establishing an infrastructure for seafloorobservatories. Simple mooring and cabled seafloor observatory configurations presently exist, and more complex systems will be feasible in the future if sufficient engineering development resources are devoted to the following major infrastructure elements:
Cabled systems—Depending on the size and complexity of specific networks, significant technical developments are required, especially in the physical design of observatory nodes and power and network management (Chapters 3 and 4).
Moored buoys—Depending on the specific application, significant technical developments are required, especially in satellite telemetry systems, and in the construction of reliable buoy riser systems (Chapters 3 and 4).
Ships and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)—Off-the-shelf capabilities exist for the installation and maintenance of seafloor observatories, except for very specific applications. Considering the current stress on the ROV fleet, additional capabilities may be required (Chapter 4).
Scientific instrumentation—To fully leverage the capabilities of a seafloor observatory infrastructure, a significant effort to develop new sensors is required in some disciplines, particularly biology and chemistry (Chapter 4).
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs)—Significant technical development is required, depending on the tasks envisioned for specific observatory networks (Chapter 4).
Data archiving and distribution—a fully integrated plan for data archiving and distribution is needed; this plan needs to be developed at an early stage in a seafloor observatory program (Chapter 5).
The extent to which seafloor observatories will address future requirementsfor conducting multidisciplinary research is very significant, and essential in some fields (Chapter 2).
The level of support for seafloor observatories within ocean andearth science and the broader scientific community is strong and, although there are indications of support from the broader scientific community, this interest was not quantified in this study. This strong support assumes, however, that seafloor observatories are one part of a broader research strategy, and that adequate support should be provided for a variety of complementary approaches (e.g., traditional ship-based expeditionary research, satellites, drifters, and floats). For example, planetary scientists have expressed an interest in using seafloor observatories as test beds and scientific analogs for exploring oceans on other planetary bodies.