New technologies, tackling big data and fully exploring the mysteries in the ocean seems to be a real possibility.
Leaders from all areas of the public and private sector seemed to agree that the ways in which research is done are poised for a monumental change. Insights once gained from the deck of a ship are delivered via live streams from robots, gliders, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). These tools will become increasingly more cost-effective. Mark Schrope, program director for Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, said this economic shift will help ease the often tenuous relationship between funding and politics.
While these new technologies are indeed exciting, they also deliver an opportunity and challenge: what Doug Au, director of engineering for Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), called “a deluge of data.”
At an xPrize panel on accelerating the future of marine technology, Jyotika Virmani, senior director for prize operations at xPrize, compared past to present. For the last 150,000 years, everything was local and linear; it was a world in which 30 paces took a person 30 steps in a straight line. Today, we are living in an exponential and global world, where taking 30 exponential paces is the equivalent of traveling the around world 26 times, she said.
To Virmani and those gathered, the data deluge will require artificial intelligence, machine learning and new ideas to process.
“We’re coalescing around robotics, machine learning, big data. That’s what’s driving Silicon Valley,” said Chris Scholin, MBARI president and CEO. “We’re losing the boundaries between ocean versus land. We’re starting to share in core technologies. As we look forward, the big leap is going to be prediction. We’re getting to the point (where) we can begin to predict ecosystem response to natural or anthropogenic forcing. How do you take that information and display it in a way that’s accessible to anyone?”
With only a meager percentage of the ocean explored, one thing is clear: There’s a great deal of work to do to uncover the mysteries waiting for us below the surface.
Cheers to Oceans ‘17 in Aberdeen in June and Anchorage in September!
Jenny Woodman is science writer and Writing Club coordinator for IEEE Earthzine. Follow Jenny on Twitter @JennyWoodman.