NEPTUNE Canada Ocean Observatory Goes Live

(News Release) VICTORIA – A new era of ocean exploration has begun.

Today, the NEPTUNE Canada cabled ocean observatory—the largest and most advanced facility of its kind in the world—officially turned on the data flow from hundreds of scientific instruments and sensors installed on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

Led by the University of Victoria, NEPTUNE Canada pioneers a new generation of ocean observation systems that use innovative engineering and the Internet to provide continuous, long-term monitoring of ocean processes and events, as they happen.

“This is a tremendous leap forward for global ocean science and technology,” says Dr. David Turpin, president of the University of Victoria. “Thanks to the vision and dedication of a talented team of scientists and engineers, and ongoing investments by governments and funding partners, we now have unprecedented access to the deep ocean.”

Every year for the next 25 years, NEPTUNE Canada will amass more than 60 terabytes of scientific data—equivalent to the text in about 60 million books—on biological, physical, chemical and geological processes in the Pacific Ocean.

The data will have policy applications in the areas of climate change, hazard mitigation (earthquakes and tsunamis), ocean pollution, port security and shipping, resource development, sovereignty and security, and ocean management.

The observatory’s cutting-edge technologies are already generating commercialization and job creation opportunities, and are attracting considerable attention from other countries building or planning similar facilities.

“One small click of a mouse—one giant leap toward ocean discoveries that will benefit the entire world,” says Iain Black, Minister of Small Business, Technology and Economic Development, who officially turned on the data flow at the event. “From creating jobs for British Columbians and protecting the environment to exploring resources under the ocean floor, NEPTUNE Canada is an example of our province leading through innovation.”

“It is a matter of national pride that the world’s largest undersea observatory has been built in Canadian seas for Canadian researchers, and CANARIE is honoured to be supporting this important initiative,” says Guy Bujold, president of CANARIE. “Our advanced technology and tools will help enhance NEPTUNE Canada’s success on the research, educational and environmental fronts.”

A curious rattail fish, or grenadier, supervises the installation of a seismometer more than 2.6 km below the surface.

“The science community is driving a new era of ocean exploration and discovery,” says NEPTUNE Canada project director Dr. Chris Barnes. “We’re overjoyed to bring online the world’s first regional cabled ocean observatory. The fire hose of real-time data will increase as we add more instruments next summer.”

The Government of Canada, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), recently committed $24 million over the next two years to support the operating requirements of NEPTUNE Canada and its sister observatory, VENUS.

The development of NEPTUNE Canada has been funded by more than $100 million from the Government of Canada through CFI, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and CANARIE, and the Government of British Columbia through the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund.

For more information on NEPTUNE Canada, visit

Map of the NEPTUNE Canada cabled ocean observatory



NEPTUNE Canada Fast Facts

  • NEPTUNE Canada (North-East Pacific Time-series Undersea Experiments) is the world’s first regional-scale cabled ocean observatory. It has taken almost 10 years to plan, develop and install.
  • Much of the infrastructure and some of the instrumentation developed for NEPTUNE Canada is breakthrough technology being used in the field for the first time.
  • The backbone of NEPTUNE Canada is an 800-km loop of powered fibre-optic cable installed on the seabed from the coast and across the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate off British Columbia. This plate provides a natural laboratory for studies on ocean change, plate tectonics, geochemistry of the ocean crust, gas hydrates, deep-sea ecosystems and ocean engineering.
  • In summer 2009, five power and communications nodes and 60 instruments—hosting about 280 sensors—were successfully installed on the ocean floor. Rough seas and delays in final node development prevented installation of instruments at volcanic Endeavour Ridge. They will be deployed in summer 2010.
  • When fully instrumented, the observatory will support more than 600 sensors.
  • Instrument depths range from 17 metres (Folger Passage) to 2.7 kilometres (ODP 1027). The most remote node site is at Endeavour Ridge, about 300 km from the BC coast.
  • NEPTUNE Canada instruments range from simple temperature probes, to seismometers and hydrophones, to complex multi-instrument systems and remotely operated vehicles equipped with cameras, probes and chemical analysis units.
  • The initial rate of NEPTUNE Canada real-time data flow is about 120 gigabytes a day. Once all instruments are operational, data flow will reach 175 gigabytes a day.
  • The NEPTUNE Canada cable loop connects to land at its shore station in Port Alberni, BC. The station provides power to the cable network and manages two-way communications, observatory controls and data flow between the subsea cable network and NEPTUNE Canada’s headquarters at UVic, 200 km away.
  • The network line between Port Alberni and UVic can transmit data at the rate of 10 gigabytes per second—the equivalent of a simultaneous broadcast of 500 HDTV channels. This provides NEPTUNE Canada with enough capacity to host many more instruments in the coming years.
  • An advanced data management and archive system (DMAS) at UVic collects and archives all data gathered by NEPTUNE Canada’s instruments and sensors and makes the data and images available to scientists and the public via the Internet. DMAS allows scientists to remotely control their instruments and conduct interactive experiments.