Tapping into an Ocean of Data

Story by Helen Hill for MGHPCC

An MGHPCC seed fund award allowed Professor Pierre Lermusiaux and collaborators to develop multi-scale models of the marine environment off the New England coast designed to talk to one-another and interface with real-time observations.

The Pioneer Array - Credit WHOI
The Pioneer Array – Credit WHOI

To complement the forthcoming deployment of a state-of-the-art underwater observation platform, 2012 seed fund researchers Chris Hill (MIT), Pierre Lermusiaux (MIT), Amala Mahadevan (WHOI), John Marshall (MIT) and Amit Tandon (UMass Dartmouth) have been collaborating to create computer models aimed at providing insights into the turbulent mixing that regulates nutrient cycle and ocean ecosystem dynamics off the New England coast where it will be sited.

The Pioneer Array, part of the NSF Ocean Observing Initiative (OOI), is the first community relocatable process-oriented observatory, the equivalent of an international cyclotron for coastal ocean science. The array will enable a flotilla of different measurement devices to provide a rich data stream of physical and biological processes in the vicinity of the shelf-break front,  a region of great importance to the oceanography and ecology of the coastal waters. Engineers in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) at MIT and at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are central to the engineering and cyber infrastructure that is at the heart of the ‘hardware’ project.

What particularly excites physical and biogeochemical oceanographers about the Pioneer Array is that it offers unprecedented concurrent observations of physical (temperature, salinity, velocity, surface wind and buoyancy fluxes) and biogeochemical properties (chlorophyll and HPLC pigments, nutrients, oxygen, phytoplankton and their species composition, zooplankton) over a vertical column of ocean at high temporal resolution. However, the shelf-break front is inherently turbulent and 3-dimensional.

To put the local measurements in to perspective demands a computationally challenging  multi- scale modeling approach that deploys multiple models across the scales of interest which talk to one-another and interface with the observations.

In this video Doherty Associate Professor in Ocean Utilization at MIT Pierre Lermusiaux shares his group’s contribution to the work and reflects on an arithmetic of collaboration where one plus one can in fact make three.

Array animation credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Model visualizations courtesy the Lermusiaux Group and MITgcm.

Video credit: Helen Hill