Instrument Use Policies and Procedures

As of 2/5/19, all instrument requests are to be submitted through the OBSIC website. Thank you.  

1. Introduction

The Ocean Bottom Seismograph Instrument Pool (OBSIP) provides and operates seismic instruments to support research on the structure and tectonics of the ocean basins, their margins, and the dynamics and structure of the Earth's interior. Funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF), OBSIP makes ocean bottom seismic equipment available to NSF-sponsored investigators, and to investigators at research or educational institutions with other government, private or industry funding.

OBSIP is comprised of a Management Office (OMO) operated by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and three Institutional Instrument Contributors (IIC's)– Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – each of whom contributes both instruments and technical support.

These policies and procedures define the OBSIP instrument request and funding process, provide proposal and cruise planning information, and state the responsibilities of both principal investigator (PI) and OBSIP from the proposal preparation to data archive stages. The complexity of OBS experiments means that efficient use of OBSIP instruments requires close cooperation among all parties involved. Although significant information is provided on this website, prospective users are strongly encouraged to contact the OBSIP Management Office during the proposal development phase for more information about OBSIP policies and procedures.

1.1. NSF Funded Projects

For NSF-funded projects, all OBS costs are supported through cooperative agreements between NSF and IRIS. IRIS, through its OBSIP Management Office (OMO), maintains subawards with Institutional Instrument Contributors (IIC's), currently Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Thus, OBS costs are not included in science budgets proposed to NSF. However, since the costs come from Marine Geology and Geophysics and Ocean Drilling Program funds, an informational budget must be included (see below).

2. Requesting OBSIP Instruments

The procedure for requesting the use of OBSIP instrumentation is as follows:

  • 1. The PI submits online instrument request form to OBSIP
  • 2. OBSIP provides the PI with a 1-page informational budget
  • 3. The PI submits a science proposal and informational budget to the NSF
  • 4. NSF funds the PI’s science proposal
  • 5. OBSIP schedules instruments


2.1. Instrument Request Form

As of 2/5/19, all instrument requests are to be submitted through the OBSIC website. Thank you. 

Requests for OBSIP instruments are submitted using the online instrument request form available on the OBSIP website: This form is automatically forwarded to the OBSIP Management Office (OMO); the OMO will then generate an informational budget (1 page, pdf) that will be sent to the PI and must be included with the PI's science proposal. Instrument requests are required at least two weeks before a proposal deadline to give sufficient time for budget preparation.

All of the information on the request form is required in order to generate an informational budget. Instrument types should be chosen based on the OBS specifications. Deployment times can be estimated using the information below. Risks to instruments should be understood and taken into account and stated in the form. Other special circumstances (e.g., simultaneous land deployments; hazardous location) should be included. Additional questions should be addressed to the OBSIP Management Office.

2.2. Informational Budget

The OBSIP Management Office will provide a one-page Informational Budget that will include a summary of instrument mobilization and demobilization costs, instrument drop charges, technical and engineering support costs, and travel and shipping costs.

2.3. NSF Proposal Submission

The OBSIP Informational Budget must be included with the NSF science proposal submission and should be uploaded to Fastlane in the "supplementary documentation" section. None of the OBSIP costs identified in the Informational Budget should be included in the NSF science proposal budget. OBSIP will provide complete engineering and technical support through its cooperative agreement with NSF. The PI's proposal budget must, however, include all costs for non-OBSIP personnel and any other costs not specifically covered in the OBSIP Informational Budget, such as miscellaneous cruise fees, communications charges, etc.

For resubmitted proposals, a new request form should be completed and a new Informational Budget should be used.

2.4. NSF Proposal Funding

Upon acceptance of the PI's proposal, NSF will provide the PI funding for non-OBSIP related expenses. OBSIP will receive direct funding to provide instrumentation and technical support for the experiment and will begin planning for and scheduling the project in conjunction with the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS).

2.5. Instrument Scheduling

The OBSIP Management Office, in consultation with NSF, UNOLS, and the IIC's, is responsible for scheduling of OBSIP instruments. The OBSIP Management Office will typically meet with UNOLS in June or July of each year to schedule experiments for the following calendar year. Only experiments with confirmed funding and ship time will be entered into the schedule. Scheduling priorities will be set in the following order:

  • 1. Programs funded by the Ocean Sciences Division of NSF
  • 2. Programs funded by other divisions of NSF
  • 3. Programs funded by other US government agencies
  • 4. Other funded programs

Instruments are allocated on a "first funded — first priority" basis. * USGS will have first priority for use of the 15 USGS OBS instruments in the Pool; USGS will be the highest priority non-NSF user for other instruments in the Pool

All other conditions being equal, the highest scheduling priority will go to experiments with the earliest funding dates, then to the earliest request dates. The goal of the scheduling is to optimize the use of the instruments, and to accommodate as many experiments as possible. Therefore, it will sometimes be necessary to negotiate with the PI the exact type and number of instruments, or to move the scheduled time of an experiment.

The OBSIP Management Office will allocate projects among the three IICs based on instrument requirements and availability, and will make the final decision on which IIC supports a given experiment. Funded programs that cannot be scheduled will be placed on a waiting list for scheduling at the earliest possible date consistent with the scheduling criteria outlined above. In some cases, especially for work in remote areas, ship scheduling may drive OBS scheduling. Requests can be made for OBSIP instruments at any time of the year. Instruments will be made available to users for rapid response studies as the schedule permits.

3. Cruise Planning Information

PI should develop a comprehensive cruise plan that outlines a specific series of steps to complete OBSIP instrument deployment and recovery. The following information should be used in planning the cruise operations.

3.1. Deployment and Recovery Times

The maximum deployment time (without recovery) will be 12-15 months depending on sampling rate. The maximum deployment water depth is 5500 m.

The following estimates should be used as a guideline for planning the duration of a cruise, as well as for estimating the time required for OBS shipboard operations:

Cruise planning duration guidelines: h = water depth, km
Activity time, hours h = 1 km h = 3 km h = 6 km
Deploy 1 1 1 1
Fall h/1.8 0.6 1.7 3.3
Survey 0.6+0.2h 0.8 1.2 1.8
Rise h/1.8 0.6 1.7 3.3
Recover 1 1 1 1

These times do not include the transit time between instrument sites. Active-source experiments may not require "Fall" or "Survey" times. Assumptions include a rise/sink rate of 30m/min, and 10-min surveys at four points each at a lateral distance from the drop location of one half the water depth.. The instrument locations should be surveyed directly after deployment. Multiple-deployment experiments with a fast turn-around time may require slightly more time between deployments for data recovery and instrument preparation. We strongly encourage that PI's talk to the OBSIP Management Office to discuss additional questions or concerns regarding cruise logistics.

3.2. Instrument Surveying

Seafloor instrument locations can often by determined for active-source experiments using water-wave arrival times, in which case the PI should provide them to the IIC before the data are submitted to IRIS. Otherwise, instruments need to be surveyed by acoustic ranging, in which case the IIC onboard technical staff will determine locations and provide them to the PI.

It is preferable to do the instrument survey immediately after deployment. If the ship has a hull-mounted transducer, a minimum survey pattern is a 3/4 circle at a lateral distance of one half the water depth and at a ship speed of 5 knots. If a dunking transducer is required, the minimum pattern is ranged at three cardinal points at a lateral distance from the drop point of one half water depth.

The azimuths of horizontal seismometer components can be measured by the PI after instrument recovery using recorded airgun or Rayleigh wave data. In both cases they are not the responsibility of the IIC and are not included in the data headers submitted to the IRIS Data Management Center.

4. PI Responsibilities

The responsibilities of the PI in seagoing operations utilizing OBSIP equipment are:

  • 1. Request sufficient ship time for all OBS operations. Although guidelines for estimating ship time are given above, it is strongly recommended that each PI consult with the OBSIP Management Office chair to ensure that adequate ship time for OBS operations has been requested.
  • 2. Plan and run the cruise, which may include marine mammal permitting, foreign and NAVY clearances, port locations, schedule changes and personnel issues. Many of these issues are dealt with by the research vessel operators, but the PI should take overall responsibility for coordination and communication among OBSIP, the ship operator, the science party, and in some cases, other organizations (e.g., PASSCAL, foreign ship operators). It is expected that OBS operations will normally take place from UNOLS vessels; use of a non-UNOLS vessel requires prior approval of the OBSIP Management Office and certification in writing from the Captain that the vessel meets UNOLS safety standards. A vessel inspection may be required.
  • 3. Provide support personnel for instrument recoveries and deployments. Although OBSIP engineers and technicians handle most of the deployment/recovery responsibilities, two additional people per shift are needed. A dedicated watchstander is necessary to record deployment/recovery information (instrument locations, times, etc) and to communicate with the bridge. Another person is needed to assist with deck operations; in extreme conditions two deck support people may be required. If instrument locations need to be surveyed, then these personnel may also be responsible for operating the acoustic ranging equipment. The optimal plan is to bring enough people to handle a two-person shift on a rotating schedule. This typically requires 4-6 cruise participants in addition to the PI and OBSIP personnel, although the involvement of more people is always encouraged. Certain cruise scenarios may require more or fewer personnel; we recommend contacting the OBSIP Management Office to discuss cruise logistics before proposal submission.
  • 4. Calculate seafloor instrument locations from airgun data (if active-source experiment) and provide them to the supporting IIC.

5. OBSIP Responsibilities

OBSIP will be responsible for all operations and equipment relevant to seagoing operations involving OBSIP instrumentation. This includes:

  • 1. Provide ocean bottom seismic instrumentation and related equipment.
  • 2. Provide expendables (e.g. anchors, batteries, etc.) for instrument operations.
  • 3. Provide technical and engineering support personnel for instrument operation.
  • 4. Ship instruments and ancillary equipment to and from ship.
  • 5. Arrange travel of OBSIP personnel to and from ship.
  • 6. Calculate seafloor instrument locations for passive experiments (but not component horizontal orientations).

OBSIP will provide everything needed to collect seismic data, exclusive of the PI responsibilities defined in 4 PI Responsibilities.

6. PI and OBSIP Authority

The Principal Investigator has ultimate responsibility for the safety of OBSIP personnel and the return of all OBSIP instruments and equipment. The PI should consult with the senior OBSIP engineer/technician on the cruise regarding all OBS operations. If the senior OBSIP staff member determines that conditions represent undue risks to OBSIP personnel or instrumentation, or if there is not an adequate plan for instrument recovery, they may terminate OBS operations.

All OBS operations are under the control of the senior OBSIP engineer/technician.

OBSIP technicians and engineers will not normally be available for other shipboard duties (e.g. watch standing) during non-OBS operational periods. If OBS personnel are needed for other operations, written approval must be obtained from the OBSIP Management Office prior to the cruise and additional costs (e.g. overtime) must be paid by the PI.

7. Instrument Loss Risks

OBSIP has suffered instrument losses as a result of deployment in risky locations. PIs planning OBS operations in areas with unusual risks (e.g., severe weather, currents or seas; unusually shallow (<1000 m) or deep (> 5000 m) water depths; intensive bottom trawling activity; ice; foreign waters in areas of political unrest; probable volcanic activity or debris flows) should include this information in the online instrument request form, and should be prepared to work with OBSIP in identifying and mitigating these risks. The OBSIP Management Office will be able to advise on proposed high-risk instrument locations.

8. Post-Cruise Information

8.1. Instrument Responses

Instrument responses for passive-source instruments are included in the SEED headers that are submitted to IRIS by the IIC. SEGY data headers do not include instrument responses, however, and they can be obtained from the IIC.

8.2. Data Policy

All data collected on research projects by OBSIP will be archived at the IRIS Data Management Center and at the OBSIP IIC that provided the instruments. The PI must provide all necessary ancillary data (instrument locations, shot times, etc) to the OBSIP technicians prior to the end of the recovery cruise.

Upon completion of a cruise, OBSIP will provide one data set to the project PI. Depending on cruise logistics and quantity of data collected, this may occur several weeks after the ship has reached port. Requests for additional copies should be made at the time the instruments are requested in order to allow for the additional costs to be budgeted.

Short-deployment data will be archived in PASSCAL-SEGY format, and long-deployment data will be archived in SEED format. Data will be submitted to IRIS within six months of the end of the last recovery cruise.

In accordance with NSF requirements, the IRIS DMC data can be restricted to the PIs for 24 months from the date of the end of the instrument recovery cruise. However, for long-term broadband experiments, data from one instrument (selected by the PI) will be made publicly immediately as part of the Oceans Observing Initiative. After this 24 month period, all data will be available to any interested investigator.

8.3. Evaluation Forms

Evaluation forms provide crucial feedback to the OMO, IICs, NSF and the OBSIP Oversight Committee. The PI is expected to complete and return OBSIP evaluation forms and data assessment forms after the end of a cruise. Two evaluation forms are available on the OBSIP website, a cruise evaluation and data evaluation form.

8.4. OBSIP Acknowledgement

In any publications or reports resulting from the use of OBSIP instruments, please include the following statement in the acknowledgements section:

“Data used in this research were provided by instruments from the Ocean Bottom Seismograph Instrument Pool (, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. OBSIP data are archived at the IRIS Data Management Center ("

Please provide the OBSIP Management Office with copies of any publications related to your experiment.

This policy has been approved by the OBSIP Oversight Committee effective 11/30/2012.

A pdf version of this document can be found here.