Mon, Oct 25, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Nanwan eco-grid monitors undersea activity

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN PINGTUNG

Tourists at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium listen to an interpreter, who explains the habits of a 4.2m female whaleshark. The whaleshark is thus far the largest animal on display at the museum.

PHOTO: CHIU YU-TZU, TAIPEI TIMES

Taiwan's eco-grid system has successfully extended its coverage from the land to the sea, further facilitating the sharing of the data contained in ecological studies with local scientists' counterparts in the rest of the world.

In Nanwan, a small bay north of the resort town of Kenting in southern Pingtung County, about 7m to 8m underneath a set of buoyant balls floating beside the Third Nuclear Power Plant's cold seawater intake system, a real-time set of monitors using nine sensitive cameras monitors marine ecological systems.

All data collected by the cameras is first digitized and then transmitted wirelessly to receivers in a control room at the power plant, through which it is then distributed via ADSL to the National Center for High-Performance Computing (NCHC).

"The underwater monitoring system in Nanwan functions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Among the various researchers connected to the worldwide eco-grid, it's the first to be able to contribute data from under the sea," Lin Fang-pang (林芳邦), division manager of NCHC's Grid Computing Division, said.

Beginning last year, the center connected to the Pacific Rim Applications & Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA), a unique collaboration among Asia-Pacific countries supported by the US National Science Foundation. Since then, Taiwan's eco-grid system powered by the center has become able to continuously contribute real-time ecological data collected by cameras on land at major research sites, including Fushan and Yuan Yang Lake in Ilan, as well as Nanjenshan in Pingtung, to the international community.

The center's first success in sharing long-term ecological research data with other countries last year served as an inspiration to local marine scientists. Devoted coral researchers wonder if the system could effectively help tackle problems about underwater observation of ecological systems.

In April, by working with local zoologists studying coral in waters managed by Kenting National Park, the center further built a real-time monitoring system near the power plant's intake of cold seawater.

According to Shao Kwang-tsao (邵廣昭), a scientist at Academia Sinica's Institute of Zoology, ecosystems at the site are ideal references because the location is protected by a breakwater.

Shao said that continuous monitoring data collected at the site can offer more details about natural phenomena and the behavior of water creatures.

"In the past, we can only rely on diving to collect data. However, sensitive creatures might hide themselves," Shao said.

At a press conference held last week at the power plant, Shao showed real-time images of the underwater world in Nanwan, saying that researchers are learning more details about the competition between sea anemones and coral, the mechanism of coral's being covered by sediment, and other phenomena rarely observed.

However, maintenance is a headache. Every 7 to 10 days, biologists from the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, situated nearby, have to come to the plant to clean the cameras, whose lenses often become the home for tiny water creatures.

To facilitate a coral recovery project, Taiwan Power Company, which runs the plant, has also financed NT$6 million for the first two years of the project.

Shao said that inappropriate human activities at the national park had caused significant loss of biodiversity in recent decades.

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