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ESP Takes First Peek Into Estuary

Katie Rathmell moves the ESP to the observation station.

The microbiologists at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) call their creation "Lab in a Can." We simply call her Clair. She is an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), a highly sophisticated robotic instrument.

The ESP is a portable laboratory that uses DNA technology to detect and analyze microorganisms in the water. They are typically deployed in the open ocean, but we at CMOP like to do things a little differently.

CMOP is deploying the ESP at one of our SATURN observation stations (SATURN-04) and collecting water samples from a highly turbid environment, the Columbia River estuary. This will help scientists  monitor and predict such things as algal blooms and low oxygen levels in the water.

I caught up with Dr. Holly Simon and the CMOP team in Astoria as they where preparing to install the ESP at the end of an old U.S. Navy pier. It took four people to lift it out of the van and over a large concrete slab blocking the entrance to the pier.  Then it was wheeled down a 1/4 mile to the observation station at the end of the dock.

The team spent the next hour or so connecting intake valves, pumps, water hoses, and computer connections to the ESP. Then when all was ready, Charles Seaton initiated the first sample collection some 70 miles away at CMOP headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

When the rain started coming in sideways, I decided it was good time to head back to my warm, dry car. The field team however stuck it out and continued to work in the down pour. (Oh the joys of field work during the winter in the Pacific Northwest.) Once fully operational, CMOP scientists won't have to take time to go out into the field, collect samples, drive back to the lab, and analyze the samples. The ESP will allow them to do that remotely and in real-time.

The team transported the ESP to Astoria for deployment at SATURN-04 SATURN-04  The CMOP team carefully unloads the ESP from the van.
Holly Simon Team ESP in place at SATURN-04 Michael Wilkin checks data connection