By Jenny Woodman
As Oceans ’15 comes to a close, we disperse and return to our desks, laboratories and classrooms with some serious work to consider. Important questions were raised this week, and there is much to think about as we go home.
Can prize money and competition spur innovation to solve big problems? We certainly hope so, and Earthzine looks forward to following xPrize’s new $20 million carbon initiative, as well as the launch of a new Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health xPrize in December.
Can those working in this field convince the public to strengthen our network of ocean observing systems so we can better understand the complex nature of the problems we face? As explained by Dr. Chris Sabine, director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Laboratory, ocean acidification is not something scientists are predicting for the future: “This is happening right now.” According to Sabine and other experts attending the conference, there are vast expanses of the ocean for which we have very few measurements, and lacking this important data is problematic if we hope to address and adapt to a changing ocean chemistry.
“We really need new instruments that are robust and accurate,” he explained. Luckily, Sabine and others see competitions like the xPrize as potential game changers capable of bringing on an important and much-needed paradigm shift.
Will the seeds of a new blue economy take hold and flourish, bringing economic development and sustainable innovations? Most importantly, can we become more resilient and adaptive as sea levels rise and can we face all the challenges that the future surely holds?
While our live coverage of the event has wrapped, we will continue to explore and search for answers in coming months; we may even stumble upon new questions in our quest to understand the things we learned from our colleagues in the ocean science community. In the coming month, we will take some time to expand on our coverage and dig a little deeper into some of the things we learned this week, including efforts to parse out a definition of a blue economy and what that means for all of us.
In the meantime, safe travels to all on your journeys home!
Oct. 21, 2015
Townhall Meeting Brings Diverse Group of Experts Together to Define and Strengthen a Blue Economy
By Jenny Woodman
The Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) and Maritime Alliance hosted a town hall discussion this morning revolving around an emerging “blue economy.” Panelists included representatives from regional clusters, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the president and creative director of Brand Architecture.
The emphasis was on connecting ocean-related communities to organizations and people who can develop technologies, support infrastructure, and recognize the economic potential inherent in a vital, but perhaps not entirely understood emerging blue economy. Maritime Alliance defines a blue economy as “the sum of all economic activity having to do with oceans, seas, harbors, ports and coastal zones.”
Laurie Jurgan, program coordinator for the Marine Industry Science and Technology (MIST) cluster, works to help local governments recognize the economic growth potential in southern Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Jurgan accented the untapped potential in this area. She noted that in Mississippi’s three coastal counties, maritime jobs account for 22 percent of the workforce or a little more than 31,000 jobs. However, when you factor in jobs that are impacted in some way by the maritime industry, that number jumps to 35 percent or more than 51,000 jobs.
Over the last two days, several panels and discussions have highlighted the problematic nature of classifying the impact of maritime work because many local economies are significantly affected by the industry, but fall into other categories. For example, fish and shellfish processing plants fall under food and agriculture, but those jobs have obvious economic and employment connections to the maritime world.
In an effort to enhance understanding of the blue economy, Fred Terral, president, CEO, and creative director for Brand Architecture, has been working with the Marine Alliance and IOOS to understand and develop a variety of ocean-related campaigns. Terral spoke eloquently about a need for a unified brand, or blue voice, that draws people in and makes them care about ocean-related concerns. Terral’s Marine Alliance artwork won the Alliance’s Educational Outreach Award for a series of posters designed to recruit students into ocean-related STEM fields.
Terral also helped design IOOS’s new logo, and the work helped him to discover a personal commitment to ocean stewardship. “We gained so much respect for the agency’s effort, the research, the data, but most importantly, I gained a deeper emotional connection to OUR ocean,” he wrote. “Today, I see our ocean every day. I see the ocean at Whole Foods when I struggle to select the most ocean-friendly seafood. I see it in Adidas, that made a shoe entirely from ocean plastic trash.”
Oct. 20, 2015
It’s a Small World at the Oceans ’15 Conference
By Jenny Woodman
Amidst the hubbub of a VIP tour of the exhibit hall, Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet made a quick detour to visit the Historical Diving Society booth. He paused to speak with U.S. Navy Captain (retired) Bobby Scholley, who belongs to a pretty special club. She’s among a small group of women who became Navy divers in the early 1980s; the first woman to become a Navy diver was Donna Tobias in 1975.
Gallaudet stopped to tell Scholley that his wife remembers her from when she was coming up in the Navy. Caren Gallaudet (née Ritter) was an ensign and Navy diver when Scholley was captain; the retired officer was touched to be remembered after all these years.
While less than 5 percent of Navy divers are women, Scholley never felt there were any obstacles in her way. “I had an amazing career,” she says. “I had command of a diving ship. I had command of a mobile diving and salvage unit, and I had command of a base.”
Oct. 20, 2015
Morning Plenary Kicks off Big Day at Oceans ‘15
By Jenny Woodman
The keynote speakers, Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet and NOAA’s chief scientist, Dr. Rick Spinrad, addressed emerging technologies and capabilities at the morning plenary. Gallaudet, the U.S. Navy’s oceanographer, says today’s big challenges, which include geopolitical tensions, climate change, cyber security threats, and declining budgets, will force adaptation.
Spinrad added an economic element to this perspective and sees a future “blue economy” that shifts away from solely extraction-based enterprises to information-dependent ocean services. He envisions entrepreneurs leveraging existing data from organizations like NOAA and creating products tailored to the individual needs of customers in a variety of industries, from hospitality and tourism to shipping.
After the session, Gallaudet and Spinrad toured the exhibition hall. Their first stop was the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) booth where they participated in the unveiling of a new logo for the organization. IOOS operates under the direction of NOAA, and is responsible for maintaining and monitoring a network of sensors to observe water quality and relevant issues that impact our oceans and Great Lakes.
The speakers also took time to briefly peruse the student posters, which were on display at the event. One graduate student, Quingyun Yan from the University of Canada presented his research on a possible new tsunami detection process. The student fielded questions about his data from Spinrad, and seemed to handle the pressure of sharing his research with the chief scientist with ease.
Oct. 20, 2015
Using Marine Tech to Inspire Learning
By Kyle Turner
A group of teachers came together Saturday, October 17, for the OCEANS ’15 K-12 Educators Workshop, where they were presented with new ideas and resources for enhancing their instruction of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) with hands-on activities involving marine technology.
Liesl Hotaling, the vice president of Education and Research for the Marine Technology Society (MTS), directed the workshop. As one of three featured presenters, she introduced her program called Student Enabled Network of Sensors for the Environment using Innovative Technology (SENSE IT), which teaches students the fundamentals of environmental sensing technology.
Hotaling emphasized the growing prevalence of all types of sensors in our daily lives, and their indispensable role in marine observation, from buoys to ships to satellites.
“Sensors are everywhere, all around us, and the average person doesn’t know much about them,” she said.
With the SENSE IT program, Hotaling explained, students “learn the rudimentary components of a sensor, how a sensor works, and then build upon that with more and more complex sensors.” This, she adds, is essential in preparing them for careers in today’s scientific enterprise.
After a short introduction to the program, teachers received materials to try first-hand one of the introductory SENSE IT lesson plans: an experiment to create a simple electrical circuit using a thermistor and to measure how resistance changes with temperature.
Douglas Levin, deputy director of the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, was also at the workshop to present his Build-a-Buoy program, which he implements in connection with NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office.
For this part of the workshop, the participants gathered in the spacious exhibition hall of the Gaylord Convention Center around an inflatable kiddie pool and boxes of PVC pipe and fittings, golf balls, Frisbees, and zip ties with the challenge to break a world record: 50 golf balls (or “buoy payload,” according to Levin) kept afloat on a small, homemade buoy.
The world record is admittedly a ruse, but, as Levin explained, it’s the same story he tells kids (as young as kindergarten), and it’s the challenge of breaking a record and doing something hard that motivates them and gets them excited for the activity at hand.
Once again in the position of the student, the teachers broke up into groups and began designing, building, and testing their own PVC buoys. Along the way, as buoys dumped and lost their payloads, Levin pointed out the main lesson to be taught: “It’s trial and error, it’s scientific methodology. You’re not making mistakes, you’re learning and improving.”
The next step, what Levin calls the BOB – Basic Observation Buoy – adds to what’s learned from the Build-a-Buoy project. With a slightly more robust design some added sensors for measuring pH, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen, the BOB can gather useful data sets from the bay or other local waterways, which can then be uploaded and shared on websites like National Geographic’s FieldScope, and compared to real-time data provided by sources like NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS).
Levin says the ultimate goal of Build-a-Buoy and BOB is for students to become “ambassadors of water quality.”
“It doesn’t matter if they’re scientists or not,” he says, “they’re going to be more cognizant about what’s going on in the environment if they have these meaningful watershed experiences.”
The final session of the workshop gave participants the chance to test out some basic underwater ROVs (remotely operated vehicles). Matt Gardner of the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center in Monterey, California, explained the use of ROVs, or as he prefers to call them, “underwater robots,” in a growing variety of fields, from underwater archaeology to search and recovery missions.
He introduced student-built ROVs, and the annual MATE International ROV Competition, which offers a fun, competitive, rewarding challenge for students with a range of skill levels who are interested in ocean technology.
Teachers then received an “ROV in a bag” kit, which included basic parts for constructing a simple ROV including a few motors, a controller, a tether, and some more PVC pipe for the frame. Once the building was done, they were then able to see how well they worked in a slightly bigger pool in the exhibition area.
Gardner spoke highly of the kinds of “project-based learning” activities that were demonstrated in the workshop.
“Instead of sitting in a classroom going ‘this is this and that is that,’ go out and do something that demonstrates why.”
Oct. 19, 2015
xPrize Workshop Tackles an Abundance of Data
By Jenny Woodman
Buoys, remote sensors, weather satellites, and myriad emerging technologies produce copious amounts of data.
Dr. Richard Spinrad is chief scientist for National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He notes that NOAA alone produces 20 terabytes of data per day, but only about 2 percent of that data is available to the public. The big question is how to make this data available to everyone, not just the researchers generating and utilizing it, but also to individuals and industries that might leverage that information in exciting ways.
The challenges are large, but the rewards offer big potential as well. There are applications in public health and safety as well as energy and food security. In July of 2015, the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health xPrize awarded $2 million to Sunburst Sensors, ANB Sensors, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for developing accurate and cost-effective sensors that measure and monitor ocean acidification. With better monitoring capabilities, the West Coast’s $110 million shellfish industry can adapt and stay in business.
In places like Toledo, Ohio, where people rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, harmful algal bloom monitoring saves lives and money by providing advanced warning. According to Spinrad, in 2012, NOAA’s Integrating Ocean Observing System (IOOS) saved Christmas when Superstorm Sandy threatened to delay the delivery of cargo to the East Coast. IOOS provided enough warning to divert ships to safe ports.
The workshop opened with an address from Spinrad who suggested there are “cultural hurdles” to overcome in order to transform this data into business opportunities. He believes we’ve already seen a huge return on our national investments in storm predictions and forecasting technologies that have saved money and lives.
As experts continue to raise the alarm about sea level rise, Spinrad sees a future where we can provide services to help people adapt to changing conditions. “Prediction is the currency of the realm,” he said.
For the remainder of the day, representatives from xPrize and NOAA will work with folks from organizations like Amazon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Maracoos. These groups will engage in brainstorming discussions and competitions to generate new ideas to address innovative ways of catalyzing oceans services with ocean data.
Oct. 15, 2015
Earthzine will be attending and providing updates from the Oceans ’15 conference in National Harbor, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., from Oct. 19-22.
This event focuses on advances in marine technology, science, education and policy, and is sponsored by the Marine Technology Society and the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES).
From the conference website: “Four days in October 2015 will be packed with technical presentations, tutorials, workshops, networking opportunities and an exhibition highlighting state-of-the-art developments in technologies related to exploring, monitoring, protecting, and wisely using the world’s ocean resources. Over 2,500 attendees, with a broad international representation, are expected …
This year’s theme, “Sea Change: Dive into Opportunity,” will shine a bright light on some of the most critical issues the world faces today and how our community can help society develop solutions to address their impacts and benefit from new opportunities …”
Check back for updates from Earthzine’s Paul Racette, Jenny Woodman, Kyle Turner, and Lori Keesey.