Stanford researchers wire kelp forests off California coast

Pity the marine scientist. In the harsh, difficult-to-reach ocean environment, even a simple monitoring experiment is a leap of faith.

"It's a common experience," said Jeffrey Koseff, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "You place instruments out there, come back several weeks later, and find that they had failed after just three hours."

Many underwater instruments don't have a connection to the surface or land. This means that they run on batteries and store their data underwater – and researchers can't know if they fail until it's too late.

The Kelp Forest Array, or KFA, solves this problem. Intended as a platform for climate change monitoring efforts in California's delicate coastal ecosystems, the array provides data and electric infrastructure to the kelp forests just offshore of Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California. With a broadband cable, the array will allow a wide variety of oceanographic instruments to deliver data to researchers in real-time.

"Instead of bringing the animals or the chemistry into the lab, we have taken the lab out into the field," said Brock Woodson, a Stanford civil and environmental engineering research associate.

Woodson has spearheaded the array project as an early career science fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions – a collaboration among the Woods Institute and Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. The array operates within the Hopkins Marine Station's Marine Life Observatory.