sciences and the broader scientific community. The NRC Committee on Seafloor Observatories was appointed to carry our this charge. The Committee's findings and recommendations are based on the knowledge and experience of Committee members, consideration of various reports and workshop documents, and input from the “Symposium on Seafloor Observatories” held in January 2000.
The Committee concludes that seafloor observatories present a promising and in some cases essential new approach for advancing basic research in the oceans, and encourages NSF to move ahead with plans for a seafloor observatory program. Furthermore, based on written and verbal responses from the symposium, the Committee views the ocean and earth science community as being enthusiastic and supportive of seafloor observatory research. It should be noted that the strong multidisciplinary support for observatories is based on an observatory concept that encompasses a wide spectrum of facilities and substantial flexibility in their geographic positioning. An observatory system restricted to a single facility type or a discipline-specific geographic focus would not garner the same broad enthusiasm. The Committee also cautions that, although seafloor observatories provide a significant scientific opportunity, there are risks involved in this endeavor. Both potential benefits and risks are outlined in this report.
The scientific benefit of seafloor observatory investigations has been recognized for many years and, as such, numerous independent national and international observatory efforts have been proposed or are underway. Many of these efforts are described here. Although the seafloor observatory program discussed in this report will be primarily research driven, the data collected by the proposed observatories will provide an important contribution to operational observing systems, such as the international Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).
Seafloor observatories could offer earth and ocean scientists unique new opportunities to study multiple, interrelated processes over timescales ranging from seconds to decades; to conduct comparative studies of regional processes and spatial characteristics; and to map whole-earth and basin-scale structures. The scientific problems driving the need for seafloor observatories are broad in scope, spanning nearly every major area of marine science. Many of these have been previously identified in the NSF long-range plan “Futures” reports (Baker and McNutt, 1996; Jumars and Hay, 1999; Mayer and Druffel, 1999; Royer and Young, 1999). Some of the most compelling of these scientific problems are discussed below.