The need to collect ocean data is more important now than ever. Using submarine fiber optic cables to collect ocean data is something that has been talked about for a long time but has only occasionally moved from concept to reality. This may be changing as the last two years have seen a number of significant developments take place that may lead to cables becoming more important to this vital endeavor. 

The following is an announcement about a new report on importance of collecting ocean data. While the report only mentions fiber optic cables in passing, the topic is of importance to the submarine cable industry and should be noted.

Shortfalls in government funding, increasing amount of data locked in inaccessible silos, and rising concerns around privacy and confidentiality are some of the reasons America is failing to reap the benefits of an ocean data revolution according to a new report released by Ocean Conservancy and Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE) in advance of National Ocean Month in June.

“The ocean data revolution is faced with complex and interrelated challenges but they are not insurmountable,” said Amy Trice, lead author and director of Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Planning program. “If America wants to lead with science and keep our ocean working, now is the time for sustained federal investment and deep engagement with communities so that we can work together to turn data into smart decisions for marine conservation, our blue economy and climate solutions.”

The report "Challenges and Opportunities for Ocean Data to Advance Conservation and Management” urges Congress to resource the right agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to collect and manage federally sourced and curated ocean data—a valuable, virtual commodity that belongs to and ultimately benefits us all. The ocean is a critical part of America’s economy. It accounts for $373 billion of U.S. gross national product, powered by ocean uses that include shipping, fishing, recreation and tourism. All of these sectors are both providers and beneficiaries of ocean data. 

Funding data management will help meet the rising demand for integrated ocean management and reduce the tremendous uncertainty around predicting future ocean conditions brought about by climate change. 

Data and science are the building blocks of knowledge critical to effective ocean management. Yet ocean science is chronically underfunded. NOAA’s current budget is $5.65 billion of which only $42 million is allocated to the Ocean Exploration program. Unsurprisingly, we know more about the surface of the moon than our ocean. More than 80% of the ocean is unmapped, unobserved and unexplored. 

"The health of the ocean is critical to the earth's future and high-quality data is necessary to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems. Without a healthy ocean, we cannot hope to mitigate and adapt to climate change, feed the world's population through sustainable fisheries, and create new jobs in the ocean economy,” said Joel Gurin, president of CODE. “We hope the recommendations in this report leads to more equitable, interoperable, and useful ocean data for the long-term health of the ocean and our planet." 

Ocean data is a broad term that crosses numerous geopolitical boundaries and scientific disciplines. It falls into at least one of five categories: biological, physical, chemical, geological/geophysical and socioeconomic. These data are all part of a broader set of oceanographic data, ranging from data on the organisms that live in the ocean, to the physical properties and processes of the ocean, to the chemical makeup of ocean waters.  

The ocean data landscape is becoming even more complex with the widespread use of new, inexpensive and autonomous ocean observation technologies. A recent study noted that these systems already “are transmitting as much data in one year as has been acquired in the past century.”  

The increase in real-time data will require network architecture and data management capabilities far beyond current capacity. The amount of data held in the NOAA’s environmental data archives alone is expected to grow exponentially, exceeding 250 petabytes by 2030. If you were to put this much data on 1GB thumb drives and lined them up end to end, they would span 1,307 miles, or roughly the driving distance from New York, NY to New Orleans, LA. 

The report also calls for data transparency through mechanisms like the formal adoption of a common framework to ensure that data access is open, freely available, discoverable and comparable.

 “What sets this report apart from others is not just its comprehensive review of ocean data assets, data sharing mechanisms, partnerships, and all the related challenges at present, but the emphasis going forward on solutions,” said Dr. Dawn Wright, Esri Chief Scientist and on behalf of the Esri Oceans Team. “This is a very rigorous solutions document, structured for maximum impact. It cites a near-exhaustive host of specific actionable opportunities and recommendations for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. Congress and the federal agencies, and more, along with an estimate of long-term impacts. The importance here will be the utility of the report not just for government policy-making and resource management, but much more broadly for all the intersecting organizations in the ocean conservation, business, and citizen activist/education sectors. This is essential reading.”

The report is partially based on a roundtable hosted by NOAA together with major online service providers including Amazon and Microsoft, as well as Esri, CODE and Ocean Conservancy.  A variety of perspectives were also gained from a series of interviews with ocean data experts from the public and private sectors. 

“Engineering a true transformation for how we manage ocean data is a solvable challenge because America already has many of the tools, knowledge and resources in place,” added Trice. “As we enter National Ocean Month, the U.S. should act boldly to manage ocean data so that ocean-based solutions are backed by the best available science.”

Link to the full report: https://oceanconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Ocean-Data-Report-FINAL.pdf.