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Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently completed installation of a coral reef monitoring station in the United States Virgin Islands to establish long-term data sets for environmental conditions. The station is the second installed as part of the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) network, and features a radically new design that will be the basis of future CREWS stations installed throughout the Caribbean and Pacific.

CREWS technology incorporates artificial intelligence software to analyze in situ measurements of the atmospheric and oceanic conditions at strategic coral reef locations. CREWS stations provide near real-time information products for use in coral bleaching alerts, and verify sea-surface temperatures from NOAA satellite products used for coral bleaching predictions.

CREWS stations will be installed near all major coral reefs in the United States, including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam. The first CREWS station, installed in 2001, is located near the Caribbean Marine Research Center (CMRC) at Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas.

The new station, located in the National Park Service’s Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve was designed, created and deployed by NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). The CMRC, with funding from NOAA, handles local maintenance.

The new design features a long fiberglass piling anchored by a ball-and-socket joint at a depth of twenty feet. Dynamic chain rigging and synthetic line allows flexibility in response to daily wave action and tidal excursion, similar to a shock absorber. This radical new design is also built to withstand tropical-storm-force winds. The piling could simply tilt with extreme wind and waves while remaining anchored to the sea floor, greatly minimizing the chance of damage to surrounding benthic communities, while enhancing the station’s survivability.

“We’re very pleased with our new design, but we’ve already got some great new design ideas to try on our next station going up in St. Thomas this year,” said Jim Hendee, NOAA’s principle investigator in charge of the CREWS network installation. “We’re continually refining the CREWS stations. By the time we get to Puerto Rico, we’ll probably have an even better design.”

Scientists from AOML worked with a naval architect to carefully re-engineer instrument locations. Oceanographic instruments float on a secure ring that maintains a constant depth of one meter, rising and falling with waves and tide. Atmospheric instruments are located on a platform at a height of five meters (about 15 feet) to measure the critical air mass right above the ocean while mast-mounted anemometers at ten meters (about 30 feet) accurately measure wind speed and direction. Each platform can be raised or lowered by hand, permitting routine maintenance from a small support vessel.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

For a copy of b-roll footage of the underwater assembly of this station, please contact Erica Van Coverden at (305) 361-4541.

Learn more about NOAA at: www.noaa.gov

For more information about the CREWS network visit: http://www.coral.noaa.gov/crw

For more information about NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory visit: http://www.aoml.noaa.gov

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