Sensor Science

July 24, 2020

Big Sur, California

Sensor swapping science!

When I'm not diving for photos, I'm usually diving for sensors. The white contraption here is one them - an array of sensitive instruments that collects a flow of information on acidity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Bolted to the reef forty feet below the surface, this one monitors the waters of Big Sur while its five siblings watch over other stretches of the California coast. Every ten minutes they collectively blink, capturing a snapshot of ocean chemistry across our shores.

These sensors tough out an undersea deployment for three months, by which point they're heavily adorned with colonizing life like the baby barnacles encrusting this one. They're then retrieved and swapped out with a refreshed array, a twenty minute process compressed here into thirty seconds. Most of the work involves just cranking down hose clamps so the ocean doesn't claim itself a new chew toy.

This scientific endeavor is a collaborative effort led by Reef Check, UC Santa Cruz, and MBARI to monitor changes in our coastal seas. Like canaries in a coal mine, the instruments pick up on delicate signals and show us if anything fishy is going on. This long-term data will help us understand what's happening in our salty waters as climate change tweaks our world.

Sometimes it's difficult to be optimistic about our uncertain future. But know that even as you read this, many scientists and organizations around the world are working hard to understand and protect our oceans, and with them a squad of sensors is quietly blinking in the deep.

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