March 2021 OES Beacon

The Vikings are rising again!

3D elevation map of the southern part of Norway, from a 1914 original, shaded according to modern elevation data. Image credit: J.J. Serrano (

The establishment of a new Norway OES Chapter

John R. Potter, Interim Chair, Norway OES Chapter 

The Vikings have a long and venerable history of maritime excellence and competency, tested in harsh conditions.  They may even have ‘discovered’ and opened trade with North America, long before Columbus.

In more recent times, OES and MTS supported an OCEANS conference in the historic city of Bergen, but since then, OES activity in Norway has waned, and the OES Chapter disbanded.  This is a great pity, because Norway has so much to offer the international ocean engineering community, and currently finds itself in at a special juncture in time and place.  Let me explain.

50 years ago, Norway was an unassuming, quiet country, where its ~4 million citizens enjoyed their mountains, glaciers and deep coastal fjords in relative isolation from the rest of Europe and, indeed, one might even say the world.  Then they discovered oil and gas in their offshore economic zone, and things were never the same again.  In 1994 Norway joined the European Economic Area and Norway has since played an increasingly important role on the world stage.

Fast forward to 2021 and Norway is prosperous, with offshore hydrocarbon production its biggest export, followed by aquaculture.  So to say that Norway is deeply involved in ocean engineering would be an understatement; the ocean is inextricably woven into the fabric of its history, geography, culture and economic fundamentals.

Norway is famous for its picturesque mountains, glaciers and fjords, with a small population, currently ~5 million, spread over a huge country with over 100,000 km of coastline, exceeded only by Canada. Image credit: Caroline Durville.

Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city, hosts the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), which has as one of its strategic focus areas, the Oceans.  Then there is the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF), one of the largest independent research organisations in Europe, which of course has an Oceans division (with some 2000 employees). Surrounding NTNU and SINTEF in Trondheim are several hundred small-to-medium-sized enterprises involved in marine technology and engineering, developing everything from innovative ROVs to autonomous ships.

Trondheim has also been chosen to become the ocean technology hub for the nation, with extensive state investment in the OceanSpace Centre (OSC), which includes FjordLab, and OceanLab. OceanLab is supported by the Norwegian Research Council, SINTEF and NTNU and will become a world-leading full-scale Ocean Laboratory, designed to meet requirements for sustainable technologies in the ocean sector in support of education, research and innovation.  The first Nodes in this infrastructure will be available to collaborating partners from academia, research organisations and/or industry in 2023. The OceanLab infrastructure will become an integrated part of the future OSC.


Looking further afield, the University of Bergen (in Norway’s second largest city) has a strong maritime focus, and Bergen also hosts the Institute of Marine Research, one of the biggest marine research institutes in Europe, with about 1,000 employees.  Add to this the Universities of Oslo and Tromsø, the Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt (FFI) and many other vibrant ocean science, research, technology and engineering enterprises and it becomes abundantly clear that there is no excuse for NOT having a vibrant OES Chapter in Norway.

I mentioned how Norway finds itself in a special position in time and place, and I promised to explain.  So here we come to a blunt and brutal truth; the offshore hydrocarbon industry (producing oil and gas), the mainstay of the Norwegian economy and export GDP, will not exist as we know it now in two decades’ time.

SINTEF’s vision for a connected OceanSpace, comprising networked operations above, on and under the sea surface, including offshore energy, aquaculture, autonomous ships and satellites. Image credit: SINTEF Ocean.

The Norwegians are traditionally very caring and sensitive to the environment, so it is no surprise that they have been among the first to face up to the challenges of our changing world and the urgent need to cut CO2 emissions, for which burning hydrocarbons is a major contributor.  They have taken the tough step of deciding to pivot their core ocean businesses and have already begun a staggering programme of investment in new maritime research and technology development to bring innovative new commercial opportunities to the maritime engineering sector, leveraging existing strong competencies in geophysics, aquaculture and seismology to create business opportunities in the New Blue Economy.

One example is their investment in the Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) value chain, essential if Europe is to achieve its carbon neutrality targets, including ‘Northern Lights’ a project that is projected to cost over 600 MEuro alone.  In parallel, there are dozens of other initiatives, backed by industry, academia and government, establishing many new research and innovation centres focused on the maritime environment.  Thus, Norway is arguably at the forefront of both existing maritime engineering competence and spearheading an investment wave into the future Blue Economy.

Given this rich context, which I have only recently come to fully appreciate since I moved to Norway in 2019, I realised that there was tremendous untapped value for both OES and the Norwegian ocean engineering community.  Together with a handful of active OES members in Norway we petitioned IEEE and were successful in restarting the OES Norway Chapter.  Our aim is to work together to grow OES membership in Norway, accessing the extensive OES professional network and IEEE benefits, connecting and nurturing the large and growing ocean engineering competence that is flourishing in Norway.

Trondheim is a beautiful city on a river opening out to a major fjord in central Norway. Seen here are some of the old wooden merchant warehouse buildings along the river, viewed from a kayak. Image credit: Caroline Durville.

I am honoured to be the first interim chairman of this new Chapter, pending elections, and to offer my energies to make sure it takes root and grows.   It is my hope and vision that we might win a bid to bring the prestigious OCEANS conference and exhibition back to Norway within the decade, hosting it in the beautiful city of Trondheim.

If you would like to be involved in this new OES Chapter, or have colleagues in Norway who might be interested, please have them join IEEE OES and register their connection with Norway so that they appear on the IEEE OES register as eligible to vote and stand for election.  We are, of course, now looking for nominations (self-nominations accepted) for officers to be elected onto the first governing board of this new Chapter.  Please contact me at if you would like to know more.