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This network of deep-water observatories lets researchers learn about the ocean in real time

Watch a live, high-definition video from a hydrothermal vent

NSF

A network of deep-water ocean observatories led by the National Science Foundation is finally up and running. Anyone with an internet connection can now download data flowing in real time from high-tech equipment located on the sea floor, or watch live, high-definition video from a hydrothermal vent 250 miles off the coast of Oregon, the NSF announced today.

The $386 million project, called the Ocean Observatories Initiative, involves 83 platforms equipped with fiber-optic cables, hundreds of sensors, and undersea robotics spread out across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Thanks to this equipment, scientists should be able to study earthquakes, species that live at hydrothermal vents, climate, and ocean acidification. But getting the project off the ground wasn't a smooth process. The data streams went live several months behind schedule and emails obtained by Nature News show that there was quite a bit of tension between project managers and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, which was responsible for building the observatory.

But the future of the project is uncertain

Still, the project is a big deal for oceanographers and climate scientists. "When I finally got through and saw the real-time data, I shouted so loud someone had to come down the hall and close the door," Glen Gawarkiewicz, a physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told Nature News.

Getting the project off the ground is an accomplishment, but the future of the OOI is uncertain. A 2015 report released by the US National Research Council suggested that the program’s budget should be cut by 20 percent, lowering it to $44 million a year. It's not clear if this will be enough to maintain the project in its current form, or whether the NSF would have to stop the upkeep at one of its underwater sites.