December 2023

Cost efficient, scalable, practical and innovative ocean observing technologies for ‘the science we need for the oceans we want – Panel discussion

Venugopalan Pallayil, Vice President for OCEANS (VPO)

Six Panelists

The IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES), in collaboration with the Ocean Decade Technology Innovation Working Group (TIWG), organized a panel discussion on the above topic during OCEANS 2023 Gulf Coast. Venugopalan Pallayil (Venu), IEEE OES VP for OCEANS, and Justin Manley (Justin), Co-Chair TIWG and President of the Marine Technology Society, were the lead organisers. The panel started with an introductory note by Justin on TIWG and its objectives. Venu then introduced the speakers and moderated the 90min session. The panel was well attended (about 55 attendees) and the engagement of the attendees was evident from the fact that the Q&A session overshot allocated time. The following theme set the basis for the panel discussion:

Implementation of the Ocean Decade agenda 2030 of sustainable oceans requires knowing our ocean better and following it up with development and implementation of right solutions. This is well captured in the Decade vision of ‘The science we need for the oceans we want’, organized within the framework of the 10 Ocean Decade challenges. Technologies and engineering them play an important role in the study of science of our ocean and implementing relevant solutions. Our understanding of oceans and our ability to manage and conserve critical marine ecosystems are limited by our ability to acquire quality, interoperable data from marine observations. But do we have enough tools and technologies to address the Ocean Decade vision? Are there gaps that need to be addressed? How accessible and affordable are these tools and technologies for the researchers? Are they cost efficient and suitable for scalable deployments and long-term measurements? Do they provide optimal coverage with reasonable resolution and scalability required for conservation and restoration of marine environment? The panel addressed these questions and made recommendations.

Six panelists, representing different industries and academic institutions, shared their thoughts on low-cost alternatives to commercial technologies yet provide better scale of performance. Following are the list of speakers and their affiliations:

Justin, who is also the founder of Just Innovation, talked about innovation for fisheries technology and explained how start-ups and philanthropic organisations can work hand-in-hand to address cost and scalability, which are critical issues. He cited a few examples, such as ‘Katchi’ and SafetyNet technologies for precision fish harvesting, and SharkGuard, a technology that reduces unintentional bycatch of sharks. Yi Chao, CEO of Seatrec, showcased a float that can recharge using ocean temperature difference and thus able to do persistent monitoring compared to the Argo floats, which have a limited lifetime and also leave electronic waste on the seabed. Seatrec floats are thus environmental-friendly and cost effective as well.

Figure 4 The RAMI23 Organising Committee awarded by Bill Kirkwood with a plaque in recognition by IEEE OES of the excellence in the organisation of robotics competitions over the last 10 years.

Julie Angus, CEO and Co-founder of Open Ocean Robotics presented a sustainable Un-manned Surface Vehicle (USV) platform for ocean monitoring. This solar-powered platform let the user to collect multiple ocean parameters (environmental, oceanographic and situational awareness data) and upload pre-processed data onto a cloud storage for later retrieval, post processing and viewing. Allan Adams, CEO & Founder of Aquatic Labs – an early hard-tech start-up, presented his vision on tracking ocean carbon, nutrients, biodiversity to changing ecosystem using cutting edge semiconductor tools and sensors.

Another speaker, Carlos Barerra, who is the head of VIMAS (Vehicles, Instruments and Underwater Machines) at PLOCAN (Platforma Oceanica de Canarias), stressed the need for a network of autonomous assets powered by ‘environmental propulsion’ using tides, wind, waves, and solar power sources. Such a fleet of autonomous vehicles at sea can provide solutions for large scale persistent monitoring of oceans sustainably. The final speaker of the panel was Melissa Omand, oceanography professor at the University of Rhode Island. Her search for a robust and low-cost commercial solution for persistent quantification of ocean carbon pump ended up with Melissa developing the technology by herself. The result was the MINION (Miniature Isopycnal), a low-cost smaller and cheaper drifter, but without any moving parts such as propulsion or buoyancy pump. Melissa says: “These floats are open source, with a bill of materials of about $2000 and they could be deployed in large enough fleets so that we can begin to resolve fluxes, efficiencies and mechanisms sufficiently to inform high resolution data assimilating models”

I would like to acknowledge the support provided by Jyotika Virmani, Executive Director, Smith Ocean Institute for her initial guidance and discussions. Jyotika is also one of the co-chairs of TIWG, UN Ocean Decade.