Given its relative proximity to major metropolitan areas (Seattle, Vancouver and Portland), the shelf of the Washington Coast has been surprisingly undersampled and is, therefore, less clearly understood than other coastal regions such as the California, Oregon and New England continental shelves. This is at least partly due to the extreme weather conditions encountered in winter months on the Washington shelf, with storm winds regularly hurricane-force and waves occasionally topping 10 m (33 ft). Yet, the Washington Coast holds some of the most commercially-important fishing grounds in the lower 48, and is home to or provides critical habitat to a wide range of marine species. The presence of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is testimony to this ecological importance.
In an effort to close the gap in observations and understanding, Wave Chasers in addition to other researchers at UW (Jan Newton and Al Devol) have designed, fabricated and deployed a long-term, real-time mooring system off the Washington Coast---collectively referred to as NEMO (Northwest Enhanced Moored Observatory). This project has been largely possible because of a grant from the Murdock Charitable Trust as well as both funding and field support from NOAA. This real-time mooring system is a novel integration of various sampling platforms to achieve unprecedented observations. The primary mooring is a heavily-instrumented 3000-lb surface mooring (Cha Ba or Quileute for "whale tail") which samples both meteorology (winds, air temperature, rainfall) in addition to ocean properties (salinity, temperature, oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll, pH, currents, etc.) at various depths. Cha Ba is also instrumented with a pCO2 system to help us better understand the movement of CO2 between the ocean and atmosphere.
A second component of this mooring system is a nearby subsurface mooring equipped with a "crawler" or an instrumented platform that travels up and down a cable at regular intervals (2 hours) measuring ocean profiles of velocity, nitrate, oxygen, density, salinity, temperature, chlorophyll and turbidity. Though profiles are conducted less frequently than the rapid measurements on Cha Ba, they have excellent resolution with depth.
One drawback of fixed moorings is that they provide little to no information on spatial variability unless deployed in large numbers. To address this issue, the third component of the mooring system is a Seaglider, which does a great job at capturing spatial variability. The glider is typically programmed to run about 190 km long onshore-offshore transects ending at the two moorings at the onshore endpoint.
Thus far the system has been highly successful, with the full system first operating during the summer of 2011. The intention is to keep the system deployed in a permanent sense, providing around-the-clock real-time data to a host of organizations and individuals who work within, recreate within, protect, study or are simply curious about the Washington coast shelf.