“The ERIS (Exploration and Remote Instrumentation by Students) cabled observatory will be a student designed and built underwater leaning facility at the University of Washington. This is a “hands-on” style course for variable credit (1-3) which focuses on the technological challenges and potential solutions for this facility.  ERIS and its educational mission will enable undergraduate students to design, build, operate, and maintain a cabled underwater observatory providing for a continuous data-stream for analysis, interpretation, and communication by students. From inspiration through implementation, this program will be focused on the creation and operation of an underwater science sensor network that physically is located off the dock of the School of Oceanography at University of Washington Seattle campus.” – Miles Logsdon, faculty at UW Oceanography, ERIS conceptualizer


Not only will ERIS allow students to gain valuable experience in working with ocean technology, but ERIS seeks to answer critical scientific questions about human’s interaction with the near-shore environment. ERIS will be the first observatory of its kind designed to monitor the underwater environment in a metropolitan setting. While cabled observatories are gaining significant traction in the scientific community, all that have been implemented or planned thus far are located offshore. These observatories, such as those organized under the Ocean Observatories Initiative (http://www.oceanobservatories.org/), are focused on understanding large-scale or deep-water processes. The ERIS observatory will be unique in that its objective is to answer questions about how anthropogenic processes influence natural marine processes.

Key Science Question:

How do anthropogenic processes mediate natural processes in the marine environment?

  • What are the temporal and spatial scales over which anthropogenic activities occur?
  • How does the temperature, light, chemistry, and velocity of the marine environment change temporally and spatially?
  • What unique ecological systems are present?
  • What is the composition, configuration, and concentration of organisms in the different ecological systems?
  • How are these systems impacted by both natural and anthropogenic events?

ERIS will also encourage students to explore a range of technical considerations.

Technology Questions:

  • What sensor(s) design is required?
  • What sample rate and duty cycle is needed?
  • What measurement accuracy is need and what can be achieved?
  • How should remote observations be made?
  • How can sensors be deployed and serviced?
  • What are the power requirements?
  • How will data be delivered, stored, and accessed?
  • How will data be analyzed, interpreted, visualized, and communicated?

In its preliminary stage, ERIS will be conceptualized and planned by students beginning in Spring 2013. Students will lead largely self-directed teams under the supervision of faculty members and focus on key areas of planning. These areas have been identified as project management, science, engineering, and policy, with considerable overlap and interaction between the groups. Students will assemble plans to obtain background information about the proposed site in Portage Bay, draft engineering plans for actual assembly of the observatory, and develop a policy and public outreach strategy. For the first installation of the observatory, three sensors will be installed: a temperature probe, a hydrophone, and a HD video recording system.

The ERIS project will continue in Autumn 2013 and subsequent quarters to follow. Following the planning phase, it is anticipated that students will create detailed financial budgets for the observatory and fabricate the parts required to construct the station. All elements of the observatory will be designed and constructed with the intent to expand the technological components available on the system beyond the three original sensors.

Once the observatory has been implemented, students will focus on maintaining the components, as well as collecting, managing, and analyzing the continuous streams of data the observatory will produce. Integral to the ERIS program is the ability to distribute the collected data so that it may be interpreted by interested parties at the University of Washington and worldwide.

Future students will contribute to ERIS by continually expanding the range of sensors and data collected, and the observatory’s geographic range. This may include possibly installing future stations throughout Portage Bay, Lake Washington, and/or Lake Union. By increasing the range of data types and the spatial distribution of the data, a more complete picture of anthropogenic impacts on the marine environment can be studied.

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