The Circle of OOI

OOI Tree 2013-06-25

Let’s be honest. This image won’t be winning any design awards. In fact, it’s not much more than a rehash of an example script for Reingold-Tilford Trees, though I did have to delve into some intricacies of d3 and SVG to figure out how to implement line-wraps of all those long names.

But the crude design of this image belies the incredible complexity behind its subject mater, the Ocean Observatories Initiative or OOI.

The OOI is currently constructing a large network of ocean sensors that will be deployed at 6 sites around the Western hemisphere, with “771 instruments on 38 moorings, 12 seafloor instrument packages, and 27 mobile assets.” (Check out the OOI Instrument Tables for all of the details.)

When you take into consideration all of the data products that can be created by each instrument – for example, wherever you measure temperature, salinity and pressure, you can also calculate density and sound velocity – there will soon be several thousand streams of data spewing forth, as construction is completed and arrays are deployed over the next 18 months. In fact, Station Papa was just deployed last month in the Gulf of Alaska, though it will be a while yet before its data is made available to researchers.

The OOI promises to provide an amazing wealth of data for the up-and-coming generation of oceanographers to explore. And it is sure to provide a ripe source of cool new science for the next 25+ years. We better start preparing for the onslaught.

So why did I create this (admittedly, not very pretty) image?

For the past two years, I’ve been working with of a small team of developers on the OOI project to build a suite of tools for undergraduate educators. Developing web applications and data visualization tools is not an easy task on a normal day. But perhaps our biggest challenge on this project has been to wrap our heads around the giant scope of the OOI, both in terms of the complex structure of its network of sensors, and its grand goals to investigate a full swath of science themes, from carbon cycling and ocean acidification to turbulent mixing and sea-floor volcanic processes.

The image above depicts the top four layers of the current design of the system, comprising 7 arrays and their associated sites and sub-sites at each location. The arrays include 2 coastal sites (the Endurance Array off of Oregon and the Pioneer Array in the Mid Atlantic), 4 global high-latitude sites (off the coasts of Argentina, Greenland, Alaska and Chile), and a regional cabled observatory (also off the coast of Oregon).

I could have included more levels of information in this diagram (remember, there are over 750 instruments planned), but with so much data to display and process, sometimes simple is better. In fact, oftentimes that is the case. After all, any good physicist will tell you to think of the cow as a sphere.

Our team is tasked with designing interfaces that will allow teachers and students to easily visualize and analyze OOI data, and creating this image was just one exercise we used to develop our understanding of the full-scale design of the OOI.

You can expect to hear more about the OOI over the next year, and particularly the educational tools we’re working on. And we’ll definitely be looking for your help as we try to make the data and information from the OOI easy to use in educational environments.

Which is why I thought I’d share this image now, to invite you into the circle.

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