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Metocean Data Services: Dream or Reality?

Paul Wyatt,
Vice President of Data Services,
Liquid Robotics Inc.

Researchers dream of the day when the oceans of the world are instrumented, and the data from this instrumentation are easily accessible and delivered directly to their desktops or tablets. Imagine the efficiencies and cost savings if researchers could easily access real-time ocean data from the office or home. Imagine not having to reserve a spot on a research ship a year in advance or spend a month at sea just to acquire research data. Is this futuristic or a near-term possibility? What is required to make ocean data services a reality?

Today, advancements in computing, communications and sensor technologies are coming together with advancements in autonomous ocean vehicles, allowing for instrumentation of the oceans. With only 5 percent of the global oceans explored, there is a tremendous opportunity to increase ocean observation capabilities via deployment of smart, autonomous ocean vehicles. The results have wide-ranging benefits for improved understanding of hurricane and tsunami forecasting, fisheries migration/tracking, ocean acidification and overall ocean health.

Together, the cell-phone/tablet/ultralight-computer market, the electric-car market and the renewable-energy market have driven small, “energy-sipping,” high-power computers; lighter, more efficient batteries; and more efficient photovoltaic cells. When combined and added to autonomous vehicles, the result is ocean-going robotic computer platforms capable of collecting, processing and communicating vast amounts of data. The miniaturization of environmental sensors and significant decreases in power consumption have resulted in labs-on-a-chip. These technology trends in sensors enable autonomous vehicles to add more, diverse sensors to their payloads for simultaneous collection of in-situ data. These data can then be offered as a service to researchers and other organizations.

Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) is emerging as underlying technologies mature in support of Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA). High-speed Internet service has become increasingly available worldwide, making DaaS an attractive option to more people and organizations. The evolution of SOA has reduced the relevance of the particular platform on which data resides. As is the case with these and other cloud-computing technologies, DaaS adoption has been hampered by concerns about security, privacy and proprietary issues, but the techniques and technology to address these concerns are now readily available, including long-duration, ocean-observing autonomous surface and underwater vehicles. Some of these vehicles can operate around the clock, through all weather conditions for years with annual maintenance. For example, Liquid Robotics Inc.’s (Sunnyvale, California) Wave Gliders have navigated and transmitted weather data in real time through hurricanes and cyclones. Most recently, during Hurricane Sandy and Cyclone Freda, the Wave Gliders were able to transmit valuable data on the surface temperatures, wind speeds and gusts, and barometric pressures throughout the storms. PacX Wave Gliders have trekked the high seas from San Francisco, California, to Bundaberg, Australia, setting new world records for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle and amassing more than 5.5 million discrete data points from the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Data-services companies are building fleets of these autonomous vehicles to acquire data for their customers. Data that were previously too expensive or too dangerous to acquire by manned vehicles have become practical with autonomous vehicles. Operating at the ocean’s surface and upper portion of the water column over long distances and time frames provides much richer, more complete data sets. These data services can reduce the cost of securing coastlines, ports and marine sanctuaries, and assist the oil and gas industry in a variety of operations, including seismic surveying and water quality monitoring.

Today’s reality is that the technologies are available, proven and affordable. What is needed to help explore the remaining 95 percent of the world’s oceans is wide-scale instrumentation and ease of ocean-data delivery. Imagine a future where one can measure the temperature of the Arctic seas or monitor carbon levels all from a laptop. This dream is now within reach.

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.