What can we do with an OpenCTD – high resolution hurricane monitoring

Last Friday we launched Oceanography for Everyone–The OpenCTD, a crowdfunding project to develop a low-cost, open-source CTD. This project won’t succeed without your help. To demonstrate how valuable a device like the OpenCTD is, for the next several weeks I’ll be presenting various projects that could be accomplished with access to low-cost CTD’s. First up on the docket is an array of volunteer nodes to measure the effects of hurricanes.

Imagine a category 2 hurricane barreling down the eastern seaboard. As the swirling air mass builds strength, it absorbs heat from the ocean. The powerful winds alter local currents, mixing layers of seawater, and depositing freshwater on the surface in the form of rain. The effects of a hurricane reach far beyond the eye of the storm and changes may take several months to return to the status quo.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a group of enthusiastic (and safety minded) volunteers taking ocean measurements before* and after the hurricane passed? And not just on the regional scale like we do now, but at an extremely high resolution, charting changes in local estuaries, sounds, and dozens or hundreds (or, dare I dream, thousands) of points along the coast? Enthusiastic volunteers with access to their own local waterways and a low-cost CTD could monitor these water bodies for months following the storm, documenting changing sea conditions. Uploaded to a shared database like Marinexplore, this kind of data would provide a massive baseline for assessing hurricane impacts, anticipating recovery, and informing management of affected marine populations.

A low-cost, open-source CTD could help make this kind of large-scale monitoring project possible. With your help, we can make the OpenCTD a reality.

Please visit our Rockethub project page and consider donating (even a few dollars helps!). You can also follow us on our Google+ page–Oceanography for Everyone for project updates and additional media.


*While, of course, maintaining a conservative window of time to evacuate ahead of the storm.

Oceanography for Everyone – Help us build a CTD!

Head over to our Rockethub Page for more information!

Conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD). With these three measurements, marine scientists can unlock ocean patterns hidden beneath the waves. The ocean is not uniform, it its filled with swirling eddies, temperature boundaries, layers of high and low salinity, changing densities, and many other physical characteristics. To reveal these patterns, oceanographers use a tool called the CTD. A CTD is found on almost every major research vessel. Rare is the scientific expedition–whether it be coastal work in shallow estuaries or journeys to the deepest ocean trenches–that doesn’t begin with the humble CTD cast.

The CTD is not cheap. Commercial CTD’s start at more the $5,000 and can climb as high as $25,000 or more.

We believe that the prohibitive cost of a CTD is an unacceptable barrier to open science. The price tag excludes individuals and groups who lack research grants or significant private funds from conducting oceanographic research. We want to make this tool–the workhorse of oceanographic research–available to anyone with an interest in the oceans.

We’re building a CTD, but we need your help!

The ocean belongs to us all. Let’s ensure that we have access to the tools needed to study it.

Head over to our Rockethub Page for more information!

Arduino Project Log: Building the Sea Leveler Part 1 – Hardware

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The Sea Leveler.

The Sea Leveler.

Two weeks ago, I announced my latest Hacking the Ocean project, an open-source, Arduino-powered water level meter that monitors the frequency of tweets containing the hashtag #sealevelrise. Since launch, the Sea Leveler has had some bugs and received some good press.  Now that I’ve had some time to monitor its performance and work the bugs out of its code, it is finally time for the promised “how to build the Sea Leveler” post.

This project was much more involved than my Arduino build and significantly more rewarding. The Sea Leveler was a challenge on multiple fronts, from learning to make the Arduino talk to twitter to physically modifying the water level meter. As I noted in my first project log, I have very little programming experience, and the major goal of this build was to level up my C++ skills. I’m very happy with the results, both technical and aesthetic.

For simplicity, I’m going to break this into two posts, one for hardware and one for software.

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Arduino Project Log: Getting Started with a Digital Compass

Andrew ThumbAs I mentioned during the last Blue Pints episode, this year I’m going to be attempting to build a low-cost open source CTD for basic oceanographic measurements. This is in addition to my ongoing work with the OpenROV. I have a pretty solid electronics background, but in order to accomplish this goal, I also need to learn how to program microcontrollers, something that I’ve never done before. For the next several months I’m going to tackle various small Arduino project to get comfortable with the fundamentals. I’ll be working out of Environmental Monitoring with Arduino: Building Simple Devices to Collect Data About the World Around Us and Arduino Projects to Save the World, both of which feature beginner to advanced projects based around environmental monitoring and data collection, as well as Programming Arduino Getting Started with Sketches for as a basic programming primer.

For my first project, I wanted to start with something that could eventually be implemented with the OpenROV–a magnetometer to provide compass headings while navigating the robot. As a first step, I wanted to learn how to program the Arduino board to calculate compass headings from a magnetometer and develop some sort of rough visual readout of that heading.

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