In 1998, Al Gore delivered a speech at the California Science Center proposing the “Digital Earth.” The “Digital Earth” is a “multi-resolution, three-dimensional representation of the planet, into which we can embed vast quantities of geo-referenced data.” At that time, the world was not ready when he suggested that computational science, satellite imagery, broadband network, interoperability, and metadata could transform our lives on earth. Now, two decades later, we inhabit the “Digital Earth,” streaming big data through technological byways and highways.
This article will reflect on how ocean management technologies have evolved under the influence of big data. We’ll see how the marine industry transformed from slow, unorganized, and fragmented to more structured and streamlined.
With big data streaming affecting diverse sectors, the marine value chain is poised for a promising future. We can already see how data has helped the industry make a substantial economic, societal, and environmental impact through governments, researchers, citizen scientists, and environmental groups.
Six Marine Technologies Harnessing Big Data to Save Marine Ecosystems
Scientists do not need to dive into the waters anymore but control explorer bots like the Wave Glider SV3 from the convenience of a laboratory. An updated version of SV2, Wave Glider SV3, is an autonomous robot powered by solar energy. This robot dives into the ocean bed with lights, sensors, and tools to sample the deep-blue creatures and environment. SV3 leverages ocean energy as propulsion during each mission to collect data that last for a year. Both SV2 and SV3 have onboard Wi-Fi and ample storage of data. The SV3 by Liquid Robotics is capable of 90% of the world’s ocean-bed exploration previously unexplored.
Ocean Monitoring Indicators
In the footsteps of observatory initiatives led by NASA and NOAA in the USA, the Copernicus Marine Service has come up with OMIs. Part of the European Union’s Copernicus Programme, these OMIs are data sets spanning over 25 years of oceanic records of climate change, ocean warming, rising water levels, and melting ice sheets. This free and open ocean information has been useful to track ocean health over the past quarter of a century. The data used in marine technologies like this is from satellite imaging of the ocean and sea ice and ocean modeling concepts.
The Ocean Cleanup
Remember the video of a turtle with a 6-inch straw stuck in its nose? It was bleeding heavily when a conservationist was trying to pull out the straw. To redeem from many such human-made ocean calamities, a young technologist came up with a solution, The Ocean Cleanup. The answer is an assemblage of long floating barriers that takes advantage of natural ocean forces to collect surface trash such as plastics. The solution does not interfere with the underneath ocean currents to not trap any fish or marine species. Through real-time telemetry to monitor each system’s condition, performance, and trajectory, the company estimates to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.
EcoCast is one of the powerful marine technologies. A pioneering way of evaluating both conservation objectives and economic profitability. EcoCast is helping the U.S. fishery get smarter by directing the fishers to achieve their target while avoiding unwanted bycatch. Daily, EcoCast extracts data from the NOAA CoastWatch program’s satellite imaging of ocean conditions. It then combines it with existing data highlighting target fish populations and endangered species. It is a probability model to locate marine species on a particular day. Such species include leatherback turtles, blue sharks, California sea lions, and other bycatch species.
Researchers from the Oregon State University, the University of Maryland, and NOAA Fisheries have harnessed satellite observations to develop WhaleWatch. This system signals marine vehicles “hotspots” of endangered blue whales to avoid encountering them. By using many years of tag data to let the whales tell us where they go and under what conditions, WhaleWatch has proven its worth. Every month, NOAA Fisheries post the maps of its West Coast Region on their website. You can also check the Journal of Applied Ecology that describes the development and foundational methodology of the WhaleWatch system.
Deep-Sea Mining Watch
The Benioff Ocean Initiative and SkyTruth came up with the Deep Sea Mining watch web tool. It helps expose immense stretches of the little-known ocean bed considered for resource extraction. Over one million square kilometers have been claimed for deep-sea prospecting. If this goes wrong, it can call forth ecological havoc. Ocean scientists collect and share GPS tracks of vessels prospecting the oceans for minerals to avoid such known consequences. They try to make information on the delicate under-ocean ecosystem known to mine companies that run cutters deep down.
In all the marine technologies discussed in this article, what you see in common is the pursuit of mining data for informed decision-making. The data size sought by the technologies is massive and insightful enough to propel any scientific movement. With the exponential growth of information technology and advances in ocean observatories, big data seems to be an indispensable resource for marine conservation.
The article originally appeared as my opinion post in DZone.