Why you see modular oceanographic mooring design everywhere

Something strange happens to you when you start thinking about buying a new car or bicycle. These are relatively big purchases for most people, so you spend a bit of time thinking about a few choices. When you spend time thinking about different options, the subtle design details and shape of the vehicle become more familiar. This is when something weird starts to happen. The lines and shape of a specific car or bicycle you are considering will stand out when you out around town – you start seeing them everywhere.

This effect is actually quite common and can happen with anything – not just a new bicycle or car. In oceanographic mooring design, you will find a lot of subtle design details. For example, many oceanographic moorings use are modular in nature. You may not pick up on these kinds of design details at first glance. Once you realize they are there, you might start seeing them everywhere. In this article, we’re going to cover a few of these modular design details:

1) working on a limited deployment ship deck space

2) adjusting sensors to reach target instrument depth

3) adapting moorings to different water depths

First, we’re going to talk about how moorings are assembled for deployment on the deck of a ship.

My trusty Toyota Yaris: I still see them everywhere!

It’s easy to get lost in the details of the mooring design

After all, there are often dozens of components to keep track of. But ultimately, there’s going to be a time when you need to assemble the whole kit and get it ready to deploy in the ocean. There’s no way around this part of the operation.

You have to assemble the mooring on the deck of a ship. It’s rare for longer moorings to build the entire mooring line in one go. They usually need to be laid out in finite lengths, with all the components and clamp-ons added before connecting to the next segment. In this way, a notable limiting factor is the amount of deck space you have available to you.

The mooring segments laid out to prep for assembly are often some factor of the ship length itself. Quite literally, the ship’s deck size can be a factor in the mooring design. If the mooring segments are too long, you won’t be able to lay them out properly on the ship deck to assemble them sequentially. This is why particularly long moorings can look like they are made of modular segments of rope with connectors instead of one long string. But these modular segments also help in another critical facet of oceanographic mooring design. This brings us to the next point in how the mooring design is adjusted to reach target instrument depths.

The ultimate goal of oceanographic moorings is to measure something in the ocean

This might be temperature, salinity, or pressure, but it can be many other things, too. But these measurements can’t just be made anywhere the sensor ends up in the water column. There is a plan for where these measurements need to be placed: this is the target instrument depth.

But there might be dozens of sensors over the entire mooring line. As you go through the design cycle, adding components here, adjusting flotation there, the instruments’ position in the water column will shift around. The final design needs to show how each sensor is reaching its target instrument depth. So, do you go through and adjust every single sensor’s clamp-on position on their segment? Not necessarily.

It’s usually faster and easier to adjust the lengths of the modular segments above or below

In this way, groups of instruments on a mooring segment move together up or down in the water column. Adjusting the segment length is a much easier way to quickly and easily reach the required target instrument depths. But this also comes into play when changing the mooring for new locations and water depths. This brings us to the third point on adapting a mooring design for different water depths.

In any design problem, it helps to know about other designs that have worked in the past

It’s the same for oceanographic moorings, too. It’s possible an identical mooring with the same target instrument depth needs to be deployed at another location – with a major change being water depth.

Adopting the design to a different water depth is easy to deal with by adjusting the mooring segments’ lengths – either removing and shortening some or adding even more segments as needed. This modular nature of mooring designs helps old designs provide a lot of helpful insight for new designs.

What if I don’t have a mooring design to start from?

Everyone has to start somewhere. It can be hard to find details on existing moorings. Mooring diagrams you aren’t intimately familiar with might also have missing design details you need to be wary of. But ultimately, the oceanographic community is very open and collaborative and asking others for help can be a way to get started. On top of this, we are building a library of sample moorings, largely based on actually deployed moorings where possible, that work with Proteus Oceanographic.

Let’s look at a specific example

CSIRO maintains an array of subsurface moorings that measure flow conditions in the East Australia Current (EAC). This array of moorings covers several hundreds of kilometers along the continental shelf. The array of moorings covers a water depth ranging from 200m to full ocean depth at 5000m. Each mooring measures salinity, temperature, and also flow speed over the water column.

Wire segments and fibre rope segments are used to fine tune instrument position and accomodate different water depths

The moorings in the array have a similar design in spite of the significantly different water depths. You can see a picture of the subsurface mooring used in 4200m of water depth below. The length of segments of wire in between the ADCP buoys and clusters of flotation were fine-tuned to reach target instrument depths. The longer fibre rope segments at the bottom of the mooring were adjusted to accommodate the specific water depth at this location. In this way, a similar modular mooring design was used across all locations in the EAC array.

Summary

It’s no accident that oceanographic moorings are naturally modular. It arises from constraints from available ship length. But it also makes adjusting the design to reach target instrument depths, or adapting old designs to new water depths, much easier.

This aspect of modular mooring design is fairly common, especially in long moorings. Now you might start seeing it elsewhere in your design work – just like when you are thinking of a new car or bicycle!

Next Step

We’ve added the EAC 4200m mooring mentioned in the example above as another sample mooring to the collection you can check out with ProteusDS Oceanographic. Read more and download the free version of ProteusDS Oceanographic here.

Thanks to CSIRO and IMOS

Thanks to mooring engineer Pete Jansen from CSIRO Marine National Facility / IMOS for sharing technical pointers, sharing data, and helping to assess the EAC mooring system.