Why Digitizing the Ocean Remains a 2017 Problem

Posted by Nicole Schill on Nov 14, 2017 1:54:45 PM

The world’s oceans cover more than a 70% of the Earth’s surface, and while we know quite a bit about them, rely on them heavily for travel and shipping, and respect their ecological importance, we have yet to truly harness their powers for communication. For all that we have worldwide communications, there are still untapped resources and isolated areas that would benefit from oceanic communication technology. The tides may soon be changing as scientists shore-up surefire ways to integrate communication technology into the fathoms below.


When the first communication satellites were launched about 60 years ago, the possibilities for communication were limited only by technology. As soon as scientists could perfect technology that could withstand launch, orbit, and the atmosphere, satellite technology could – and did – change the world. While scientists have had plentiful access to the oceans since the dawn of time, oceans provide a compounded host of variables that are costly to account for. Once up in space, a satellite orbits the Earth. It doesn’t have sharks nibbling on the antennae. Internet cables that stretch across the ocean floor are a constant source of information for scientists studying ways to improve telecommunications via bodies of water, but unlike satellite operators, they are faced with corroding salt, aforementioned nibbling sharks, as well as tumultuous storms, varied physical environment, intense water pressure, and a vast, deep, dark unknown.

Project Natick by Microsoft is investing heavily into oceanic communication. The project ponders, “50% of us live near the coast. Why doesn’t our data?” These scientists know why – salt, sharks, danger – and are working to overcome these obstacles. Not only does understanding the oceans on a higher level mean better communication technology, but it could also lead to seafood-reliance stability, and better environmental protection. The ideal is to create underwater automated technology centres operating on a higher level than orbiting satellites.

Big data plays a big part in the advancement of oceanic technology. The birth of big data was dependent on computer storage and analysis and components, which is why it’s little surprise that a computing giant is taking on undersea technology. exactEarth entered the big data community with our innovative Satellite AIS (S-AIS) for maritime surveillance. Our customers can track their entire fleet at the touch of a button, allowing operators to quickly communicate with government agencies, surrounding vessels, and land-bound headquarters to make reliable decisions and avoid danger, reduce environmental impact, and plan fuel-efficient routes. Undersea resources would enhance this data, potentially improving the ability to avoid whale strike, determine if and where more Marine Protected Areas are needed, and provide an implicit understanding of currents, underwater habitats, and sea life behaviour.

Adding undersea big data to collective knowledge bases could also contribute to accurate forecasting of impending disasters like tsunamis, detecting environmental pollution earlier, and better assisting law enforcement in circumventing criminal activity. Current S-AIS and eyes on the seas provide rescue operations with reliable proactive information, it still largely relies on the individual vessel. Undersea communications has potential to increase proactive capabilities for law enforcement, environmental protection agencies, and corporate marine industries. Microsoft isn’t the only company tackling undersea communications, and advances have already been made with expanded prototypes breaching the horizon. Autonomous fleets may be realized sooner than we think.

Topics: Geospatial Data, Data Sharing, Ocean GIS, big data, digital ocean, ocean data

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