On the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, a huge plow is cutting through sea bed to bury cable for a unique underwater observatory.
The international NEPTUNE project is the world's first regional cabled ocean observatory.
The project's Canadian section -- under construction off the west coast of Vancouver Island -- is led by former University of Waterloo professor Christopher Barnes.
UW is one of 12 universities involved in the project. Barnes, who will receive an honorary degree from UW at convocation today, is excited about the prospect of "wiring the ocean."
"This is the last frontier," said Barnes, based at the University of Victoria. "Forget the moon, forget Mars; I mean don't forget it but those are things well outside of our reach," he said.
"Here we live on this planet and 70 per cent of it we know so little about . . . Since the oceans control much of climate and obviously much of the surface of the earth, I think it behooves us to try to understand that."
When NEPTUNE is operational in late 2008, scientists will be able to listen to migrating whales, study dwindling fish stocks, spot never-before-seen microbes, watch for processes leading to major earthquakes and warn about approaching tsunami.
NEPTUNE is critically important to the future of our troubled Earth, Barnes said.
Now that people are finally beginning to listen, scientists will be able to show, instantly and continuously how global warming is threatening the planet.
Scientists will get instant, non-stop data when instruments -- everything from video cameras to underwater microphones and seismometers -- are connected to the Internet via a loop of undersea telecommunications cable.
"I talk about it as being the democratization of information," Barnes said.
The thin cable will loop 800 kilometres from Port Alberni, around the northern Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.
"We have to bury it across the Continental shelf and the upper Continental slope, to 1,500 metres," Barnes said. It will run as deep as 2,700 metres.
About three-quarters of the cable has been buried so far.
More cable observatories are planned in the U.S., Japan, Taiwan and around Western Europe.
NEPTUNE, a joint U.S.-Canada project, stands for North-East Pacific Time-series Undersea Networked Experiments. The Canadian section costs about $100 million, including $20 million worth of in-kind services.
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