Schmidt Ocean Institute

2013 Research Symposium Report

Accelerating the pace of ocean science

through technological advancement

and open sharing of information

Honolulu, HI - November 2013

Table of Contents

Executive Summary


About the Steering Committee

About the Symposium Program

1.         Technology Integration for the Marine Sciences

2.         Breakthrough Opportunities in Ocean Science through Revolutionary Instruments

3.        Robotics and the Ocean Frontier

4.         Evolving Roles of Research Vessels

5.         Oceanographic Research Organization Essentials: Bricks and Mortar or Virtual?

6.         Ocean Data Sharing and Analytics

7.         From the Oceans to the Public: Streamlining the path of at-sea observations to meaningful public engagement

Concluding Remarks

About Schmidt Ocean Institute

Executive Summary

Prepared by Dr. James Bellingham, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

This document represents the best effort of the symposium steering committee to concisely capture discussions held at the Schmidt Ocean Institute research symposium.  Following this introduction are summaries of the panel discussions held over the two day meeting.  This document is posted in draft form to solicit further discussion and proposed follow-through.

The goal of the Schmidt Ocean Institute in convening the meeting was to identify opportunities to advance ocean sciences through innovation in technologies, operations, and communications.  Rather than develop these plans in isolation, the Institute invited leaders from the global community in the hope that a more coordinated strategy might evolve.  In effect, the meeting became a forum for leaders from the ocean sciences, policy, and education communities to consider the many emerging challenges, and to develop strategies for overcoming those challenges.

Marcia McNutt opened the meeting with a presentation that equally could have served as the summary presentation.  She covered a range of issues, but the core of her presentation revolved around the need for an increasing level of interoperability in the ocean sciences.  Although the discussion was couched in a data framework, it encapsulated the sense of a community faced with very large challenges, needing to develop better mechanisms to join together to realize critical mass.

The meeting was organized into a series of discussion panels, with time for interaction between the panel and the other meeting participants.  The first day, panels grappled with identifying the great science issues, emerging sensor technology, robotics, and ships.  In the second day, the conversation moved to data, organizations, and ended with outreach.  There was significant overlap between panels:  the robotics session considered new sensors, the ship discussion considered the impact of robotics, and every discussion touched on the growing importance of data management.  Summaries of these discussions follows the introduction.

The meeting and ensuing discussion occurs at a watershed moment.  Public support for the basic sciences appears to be crumbling, particularly in the United States.  Political will to act on the best science to mitigate human impacts on the ocean and the larger environment has diminished significantly, even as human activities in the ocean increase and the evidence for such impacts is strengthening.  Access to the ocean via our oceanographic fleets is in jeopardy.  However, there are positive developments as well, including:

As described by one of the meeting participants, this meeting was an exploratory cruise.  It nucleated a vibrant discussion of new directions for the ocean sciences, and the emerging technologies and capabilities that could support them.


On November 1-2, 2013, Schmidt Ocean Institute convened collaborators, advisers, and thought leaders in ocean sciences and related disciplines from around the world in Honolulu, HI for an open discussion of the latest technological innovations, globally expanding connectivity, cultural shifts towards transparency and open sharing of research outcomes in marine sciences.  

The symposium commenced with the charge from the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Vice President and Co-Founder Wendy Schmidt to explore the horizons of ocean research in order to better understand how technology and communications can be used to help the oceanographic community accelerate the pace of ocean research and enable faster and broader communication of the information to a caring public.

Ocean sciences are conventionally segregated into disciplines, such as physical, chemical, biological oceanography, marine geology, and others.  While each field has distinct objectives, they also have many commonalities in the structure of their respective workflows.  Leveraging technological innovations made in the context of one discipline could benefit other fields and ocean sciences in general.  The purpose of this symposium was to examine ocean sciences from the technological, operational, and informational perspectives seeking cross-disciplinary opportunities for improving traditional science workflows and communication of research outcomes to the public.

More than one hundred world renowned ocean scientists, technologists, research facility operators, policy makers, communications experts, government agency and non-government organization representatives participated in the symposium.  

About the Steering Committee

The symposium steering committee was composed from some of the most prominent experts in marine sciences, technologies, operations, policy, data analytics, and public communications, including:

Dr. James Bellingham, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Dr. Daniel Pauly, the University of British Columbia

Dr. Jules Jaffe, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Mr. David McKinnie, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Dr. Edith Widder, Ocean Research and Conservation Association

Dr. Peter Cornillon, University of Rhode Island

Dr. Dennis Bartels, San Francisco Exploratorium

Ms. Mary Miller, San Francisco Exploratorium

Dr. Russell Moll, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (ret.)

The steering committee was tasked with the definition of the structure and program for the symposium, planning and moderating of the individual panel discussions, and preparation of the final report.

About the Symposium Program

The symposium program spanned two days and included a series of 4 plenary presentations and 7 discussion panels.

Plenary presentations included an opening keynote “A Vision for Ocean Research:150 Years Post HMS Challenger” by Dr. Marcia McNutt, AAAS Science, “Up for Grabs: Technology and the Race to Control the Ocean” by Dr. Jim Bellingham, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), “Surgical exploration of the seafloor using a combination of multibeam, AUV, and ROV data” by Dr. Charlie Paull, MBARI, and “Let There Be Light: Exploring and Mapping the Ocean with Bioluminescence” by Dr. Edith Widder, Ocean Research and Conservation Association.

Panel discussions focused on the components of research workflows in marine sciences covering the following topics:

All attendees were invited to contribute their input and questions to the panel discussions.  The following sections of this report discuss the findings and recommendations that resulted from the panel deliberations.

1.         Technology Integration for the Marine Sciences

Panel discussion moderated by Dr. Daniel Pauly, University of British Columbia

Panel Participants: Dr. Cabell Davis, WHOI; Dr. Paul Falkowski, Rutgers University; Dr. Rainer Froese, GEOMAR; Dr. Tim Shank, WHOI

This panel sought to identify the outlines of a ‘new oceanography’ that would closely integrate its various sub-disciplines (physical, biological, etc.) and enable a smooth scientific workflow. The panel also aimed to examine the topics of data availability, accessibility, and reliability, what new data is needed to understand how the future ocean will function, and what is at risk if oceanography does not succeed in addressing the critical challenges.

The challenges facing the ocean are well known; they are, in approximate order of current impact on life in the ocean: overfishing, pollution, acidification, and warming.

It is the work of U.S. Navy Commander M.F. Maury that defined the early mode of operation and enabled rapid progress of physical oceanography. He offered to the mariners who sent him their individual observations (on currents speed and direction, temperature, depth soundings, etc.) maps that combined their observations with those of hundreds of their colleagues, and which were thus inherently better than those based on personal observations.

This data sharing model and the exchange protocols it required shaped the physical and chemical oceanography and, along with a similar development in meteorology, led to the emergence of the first global products, responding to the needs of an increasingly interconnected world, and paralleling our deeper understanding of the Earth’s dynamics (i.e., plate tectonics). Today, coupled atmosphere-ocean models have become major tools for dealing with both global weather and climate issues, and can also accommodate issues in chemical oceanography.  Thus, although huge gaps in our understanding of marine physicochemical processes remain, they are amenable to pattern detection and especially to modeling on a global basis, the new third ‘pillar’ of Science (beside theory and experiment).

However, this is not the case for the biological sciences. For example, the proposition by Victor Hensen (1835-1924) that zooplankton was at the base of the marine food web, and had predictable and ‘mappable’ properties, e.g. biomass, turnover rate, etc. was not accepted due to a lack of widespread standards on how to gather and map information on an ever increasing scale. Rather, the data collection was received with a dispute about the usefulness of arithmetic in marine biology, instigated by the evolutionist Ernst Haeckel, which may have, in this instance, held back the nascent discipline for decades. This record keeping, unfortunately has not changed much in over a century of biological oceanography, which continues to be a parochial discipline dominated by local studies what are challenging to integrate into global analyses.

The situation with fishery science - a very applied discipline - is similar, with local studies dominating the field.  To this point, the systematic expansion of fisheries offshore, into deeper waters and southward, was only described in the 21st century, although the movement was detectable 40 years ago; an example of the delayed discovery of 'system' properties of industrial fisheries. This is not a trivial point, as the fishing industry today is in the business of removing life from the ocean; this is what fishing vessels are designed to do, and there are thousands of them scouring the ocean.  Yet, esoteric explanations are often preferred when it comes to the reason why the megafauna of the ocean are in decline.

The result of these disjointed data collections by discipline is that there is very little biological (incl. fisheries) oceanography data available at a scale where it can be interfaced with coupled ocean-atmosphere models.  This situation is different from that in many terrestrial studies, where ecologists and agronomists (the terrestrial counterparts of marine and fisheries biologists, respectively) often have detailed global databases of vegetation cover, and its utilization by humankind.

Thus, if an integration of biology data with ocean physics and chemistry data is our goal (or even only a means to attain a higher goal, such as ‘ocean heath’, or addressing questions about our increasing demand for seafood), then attention should be given to the integrative activities of marine biologists.

The Aquamap concept was presented as an example of using physicochemical properties of the marine fish habitats along with their respective spatial location data to infer the ‘climatic envelope’.  This combination of data can be mapped via the observed distribution of these properties, the results being hypothetical distribution range maps for the organisms, which can then be refined by experts, etc (see  Such a system quickly generates usable products from the scarce records that are available for many species, which then can be incorporated, for example, in the species identification systems that should be deployed along with marine robots. One can even conceive of an automatic identification system being incorporated into Argo floats in the near future.

However, a major impediment to these kinds of developments are funding agencies that prefer to fund ‘new’ local or regional studies instead of work to populate global databases and other products which are required to elevate marine biology data to the global standards of physical oceanography data. Such issues need to be overcome, and wider participation will have to take place toward addressing, in integrated fashion, the global issues of overfishing, pollution, acidification and warming that are threatening the ocean. Working as a unified field to overcome these challenges would also provide us all with opportunities to become good stewards for the life in the oceans.

2.         Breakthrough Opportunities in Ocean Science through Revolutionary Instruments

Panel discussion moderated by Dr. Jules Jaffe, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Panel Participants: Dr. Ed DeLong, MIT; Dr. Charles Eriksen, University of Washington; Dr. Deirdre Meldrum, Arizona State University; Dr. Ajit Subramaniam, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

The need for increased resolution of ocean sampling in space and time is at an all-time high.  Growing interest in studying mesoscale phenomena (e.g. eddys) demand increased resolution of sampling in space and time to characterize the processes that occur with shorter time scales and smaller spatial scales than those currently measurable.  In this context, smaller and less expensive hardware with suitable sensor capabilities is needed.  For example, there are currently 3600 Argo floats in operation, but their sample space and time scale of hundreds of kilometers over a few days is inadequate for characterizing many types of global ocean phenomena.  Instrument technologies that may be capable of resolving smaller scales are currently under development.  An example of such technology was presented: an instrument system inspired by bio mimicry of a fish, with propulsion, sensory system, and the ability to adopt various sampling strategies.

Lagrangian ocean sampling remains a challenge, as the measurements of mass and energy fluxes through even one meter-cubed parcels are currently unavailable.  Since many oceanic processes occur on these or smaller scales, the ability to track water parcels in Lagrangian framework remains an important goal.

Another area of instrument development that would greatly benefit ocean research would be the creation of instruments for behavioral measurements of plankton, collecting data on microbial processes associated with marine snow, and for studying predator-prey relations at all scales.  Oceanographers are usually measuring the boundary conditions of rates but not the rates themselves.


While the need for instrumentation development is great, funding remains an issue. A glider development program recently funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) was cited as an example of successful instrument development that resulted from sustained funding support.  In this case, continued financial support over at least five years culminated in three different glider designs, hundreds of which have now been deployed. These gliders transform our view of the ocean thanks to their long deployment range, capability to target specific areas of opportunity, and researchers’ ability to direct their gliders’ activities in real time.  In addition to the sustained funding and goal-oriented mission of ONR, interactions between scientists and engineers were recognized as a key ingredient of the successful development. A number of instruments that were recently developed to sense oxygen, image ocean plankton and protists, and the Environmental Sample Processor designed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute were also discussed to highlight the benefits of sustained funding for instrument development programs.  

The risk to reward quotient is also a significant consideration for funding purposes.  For example, National Science Foundation tends to support a low risk funding portfolio, while philanthropic foundations can take a higher risk.

Import of technology from other fields, e.g. from biomedical research, offers attractive opportunities.  Miniaturization and cost reduction demonstrated in new biomedical instruments may hold substantial impact potential for ocean instrument development.  Both scalability and cost reduction are important. How can the ocean instrumentation community develop instruments with performance comparable to that of a mobile phone in terms of computing power, sensors suite, localization, and interactive capabilities?  What would be a monetization model for such?  While the biomedical field seems to offer interesting potential in this respect, the military and oil and gas industry may offer similar opportunities.

The following additional opportunities for future growth have been identified:

Scarcity of funding for "discovery oriented" science was a common theme throughout this and subsequent panel discussions.  The panel also emphasized the value of educational workshops held by instructors from professional instrument development organizations for facilitating the training of new instrument developers and defining the scientific needs (e.g. in physics, chemistry, biology, etc.), design, implementation, testing, and quality control for the new instruments to ensure confidence in the concept and accuracy of the collected measurements.

3.        Robotics and the Ocean Frontier

Panel discussion moderated by Dr. Jim Bellingham, MBARI

Panel Participants: Dr. Michael Klages, University of Gothenburg; Dr. Vincent Rigaud, Ifremer; Dr. Henrik Schmidt, MIT; Ms. Mikell Taylor, Bluefin Robotics

The panel addressed the growing number and diversity of platforms being produced for the ocean sciences.  Discussion mostly focused on unoccupied platforms – Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), and to a lesser degree Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).  Human Occupied Vehicles (HOVs) were also identified as subjects of technical innovation.


The rate of progress is accelerating for both technical and operational aspects of unmanned platforms.  Over the last decade and a half, ROVs have proliferated, increasing access to the deep ocean.  More recently, AUVs (including buoyancy-driven gliders) have become practical tools for ocean science, and are being built in a variety of forms and sizes.  AUV endurance is increasing; capabilities are more sophisticated and more scientifically productive.  Improved reliability of autonomous platforms, and increasing functionality of smaller systems, is enabling field programs using large numbers of robots, providing unparalleled observational capabilities.  UAVs are far advanced in capabilities and have been used successfully in field programs, but face airspace restrictions in many regions. USVs are seeing a particularly dramatic evolution, with introduction of a variety of surface platforms powered by environmental energy.


While creating new technology is difficult; transitioning it to routine and productive use can be even harder.  Consequently, a significant part of the panel discussion focused on coupling technical progress to science needs and operational success.

Although there are challenges, robotic systems are changing the way we work at sea.  AUVs multiply the productivity of a ship when they operate independently for periods of a day or more, freeing the ship for other activities.  Most often, such AUVs are completely autonomous when more than a several kilometers from the ship.  However, coupled AUV-USV operations offer the prospect of direct control of distant submerged AUVs by ship-board operators in near real time.  In this scenario, the USV communicates with the ship via radio, and to the AUV with acoustics.  UAVs can greatly improve the effective reach of a ship as well, providing over the horizon sensing of the sea surface and the atmosphere.  Finally, some classes of robotic systems require little or no ship support.  Buoyancy driven gliders, wave and wind powered USVs, and long-range AUVs can reach well beyond the coastal ocean even when launched from shore.


For tasks that require a human in the loop, advances in tethered systems (e.g. ROVs) are enabling deep ocean access with smaller, less expensive ships.  Today ROVs are often operated off of ships of opportunity; however the large diameter cables employed by deep ROVs require dynamic positioning equipped vessels, which are fewer in number and comparatively expensive to operate.  New fiber-only ROVs employ much smaller, lighter cables and enable operations off ships without dynamic positioning, opening the prospect of deep ocean access off of fishing boats.  Nerius, one example of a fiber-only vehicle, recently completed a dive to the Marina Trench, highlighting the reach of these new platforms.  Participants noted that human occupied vehicles are also an active area of technology development, as was highlighted recently with James Cameron’s decent to the bottom of the Marina Trench in his one-person submersible.


Increasing use of robotic platforms is bringing technological needs into sharper focus.  These include:

The changing technical landscape requires new skills for users, operators, and developers alike.  There was general agreement that ocean science programs are not broadly training scientists in the use of advanced instrument and robotic systems.  Along a similar vein, instrumentation development is not included in traditional curricula. However, grassroots activities in the form of robotic competitions are giving some younger students early practical exposure to robotics, and a high proportion of alumni of these programs go on to work in the robotics industry. With the success of robot building competitions, new competitions are being created where teams focus on the software, encouraging students from around the world to submit code to run on dedicated platforms (USVs).  Thus a new generation of engineers and technologists are entering the workforce that have experience on robots from an early age.

4.         Evolving Roles of Research Vessels

Panel discussion moderated by Mr. David McKinnie, NOAA

Panel Participants: Dr. Bruce Appelgate, Scripps; Mr. Marc Nokin, Ifremer; Dr. Peter Ortner, UNOLS; RDML David A. Score, NOAA

Oceanographic research has in the past typically revolved around ocean-going ships.  And despite the high value of satellite-based measurements, moored systems, drifters and floats, and more recently AUVs and gliders, ships remain critical to advancing our understanding of the ocean.  But ships are also expensive to build and operate.  The research fleet in the U.S. and other developed nations is growing smaller along with budgets for fleet capital investments and operations.   Most would agree that dedicated research vessels will remain critical in the future.  But what kinds of ships?  How will they operate?  This panel will address these questions by discussing new designs that will increase flexibility and adaptability—for example, modular designs and systems that drive down operating costs--technologies and modes of operation that can extend the reach of these vessels—such as telepresence and deployments of “swarming” sensors—and ways to network existing, planned, and assets of opportunity to meet data collection and research requirements.

The [global] research fleet is at a crossroads.  On one hand, the size of the fleet is declining and operations costs (driven significantly by fuel and regulatory compliance) are soaring.  Technology and new operational paradigms are evolving very quickly, and long lead times for planning and building new ships in most countries means that there is a mismatch between the ship construction process and the rapid development in relevant enabling technologies (for example,  deployable autonomous sampling instrumentation).  Current ship design has reached the point where long term operations of these vessels may not be sustainable because they cost too much to build and to operate, and because of their environmental impacts.  Designs that try to accommodate all possible missions may not, in the end, be flexible enough to respond to new requirements and new technologies.  The current inventory of research vessels, however, has  proven remarkably versatile over time in adapting new technology and mission types.

Ships are a means to deliver something to a particular place or area (a mooring, or a submersible, for example), or to retrieve something (data, samples, or equipment).  New science drivers and new technologies raise a few key first-order questions in light of current science drivers and new and emerging technologies:  why do we need ships anyway?  How will that requirement change in the next few years and how can research vessels best meet these needs?  And what is needed to create or accelerate development of new platforms in response?

The panel addressed a set of themes that captured results of the pre-symposium survey beginning with paradigms and modes of operation and ending with questions of fleet management, planning and funding.  Key observations the panelists and participants offered included:


A UNOLS Perspective:  “Additional recommendations with respect to maximum impact for SOI investment” by Bruce Appelgate (SIO/UNOLS) and Peter Ortner (UNOLS/OceanScope)

As noted by the panel, “the business of academic oceanography needs to change if data are ever to be made completely open and available in real time.  Real-time availability of data is not without risk in that blunders/artifacts in data may be used and misinterpreted, leading to erroneous results.  Some sort of rigorous QA/QC mechanisms need to be in place if real-time data provision is to become a reality.” SOI, in part because of its association with Google and the information science capacity available thereby, could make a significant impact by supporting these mechanisms in a way that enables fully-vetted data to be made available to the broad scientific community.

Again as noted by the panel, by working together in UNOLS, “efficient ship schedules are created so that all scientists can benefit from quick and fair access to the sea, in a manner that minimizes operational costs for all ship users.”  SOI should consider supporting scientists to sail aboard UNOLS vessels, which are distributed around the world and feature a broad variety of capabilities that could quickly and economically be employed to carry out SOI's scientific mission rather than exclusively relying upon exploratory mode scheduling of the RV FALKOR. Similarly the scientific return on investment would be greater by focusing on aspects of ocean infrastructure and technological (or analytical) capabilities that currently don't exist, by emphasizing investment in high risk high return science (the stated mission of the Schmidt’s Marine Science &Technology Foundation - rather than “exploratory” scheduling.  The current federal funding climate has made it very difficult to fund such activities particularly with cutbacks and changed priorities in the agency (ONR) that traditionally filled that role.  Exploration is great but given societal needs it should represent a comparatively small fraction of investment in ocean science.

5.         Oceanographic Research Organization Essentials: Bricks and Mortar or Virtual?

Panel discussion moderated by Dr. Edith Widder, ORCA

Panel Participants: Dr. Susan Avery, WHOI; Dr. David Conover, NSF; Dr. Peter Girguis, Harvard University; Mr. Gene Massion, MBARI; Dr. Oscar Schofield, Rutgers University

Panel Charge: The addition of internet-connected, community observing networks to traditional oceanographic research vessel based expeditions presents benefits and challenges for oceanographic research organizations. Well-maintained ocean observatories with appropriate policies set the stage for a new generation of Virtual Institutes, which can promote collaboration among investigators spanning the globe, eliminate geographic constraints, and foster innovation. This has the potential to democratize oceanography, where the intellectual leadership has historically been dominated by the scientists who were on the research vessels. However, helping the oceanographic community to embrace an open data environment, maintain strong communication channels among globally distributed research teams, and secure sustained funding to support observing networks and data archives represent significant challenges given the current cultural reward structure.  How can oceanographic research organizations overcome these challenges and maximize benefits?

To help frame the discussion, we offer a definition for a virtual institute (VI)

Advantages of a VI include the following:

Challenges for a VI include the following:


6.         Ocean Data Sharing and Analytics

Panel discussion moderated by Dr. Peter Cornillon, University of Rhode Island

Panel Participants: Mr. Matthew Arrott, NSF OOI; Mr. James Gallagher, OPeNDAP; Mr. John Graybeal, Marinexplore; Mr. Brian Sullivan, Google Ocean; Dr. Dawn Wright, ESRI

The panel organized itself around a vision of how a scientist might investigate a specific scientific problem with a utopian data system. Key to the vision is the lack of barriers to finding, accessing, interacting with and understanding the data of interest. The main components of the data system presented were the ability to:

Panelists’ comments addressed this vision and, in particular, which parts of the system are available today or in the near future and what the perceived obstacles are to achieving the vision in the future. Three themes emerged from these comments together with questions/comments from the audience:

  1. Most components of the vision are possible today or will be within the next five years. Several examples of existing components were discussed. For example, a project by Google Ocean to integrate all Landsat data into a system that allows the user to move through the petabyte Landsat archive and a project by Research and Development at ESRI that is creating functions to analyze large point clouds, unstructured grids, and finite element model meshes. However, there are two critical elements required to achieve the vision that are missing or incomplete today and will likely remain so for some time to come. First, the links between the different functional elements of the system necessary for seamless interoperability between these elements are needed. An example of this concept would be a link that allows a user to obtain metadata about a particular data object at any point in the analysis or the link between the location of datasets of interest and ingestion of a subset of the data into the analysis portion of the system. Second, the metadata are needed at every step in the process to make use of the links where they exist; e.g., a request about a data object is of little value if there is no metadata that tells the user about the object or missing metadata required to locate a data object renders seamless navigation from data location to ingestion and analysis impossible.
  2. As noted above most of the components of the system already exist or are readily achievable – the obstacles to achieving the vision presented are not technological but rather stem from the siloed nature of data management in the oceanographic community, from the lack of participation by data collectors in making their data available via existing system components and from the lack of metadata required for system-wide interoperability. It might help to examine these barriers, how they arise, and why they will be difficult to overcome, in the context of an analogy with languages used for human-to-human written communication. Languages in this context are analogous to protocols used in computer science - a standard procedure for regulating data transmission between computers. A complete data system requires protocols for the exchange of data and metadata between and within system components. So, for example, there are currently several protocols for accessing scientific data over the network that differ in the particulars of how data are accessed but that share common operating modes, much as people who communicate with English use slightly different rules depending on the actual application – lawyers vs physicians vs the general public. Continuing the example, data location services use a different set of protocols from those used for data access – e.g., Chinese, in which not only are there structural differences from English, but differences in the vocabulary and character set.
  1. The siloed nature of data systems in oceanography: The difficulty in achieving interoperability in the data system world is akin to the difficulty of communication between groups using different languages or variants of their language. Communication between the English-speaking lawyer and the English-speaking physician, which corresponds to within component communication, is generally more straightforward than between an English-speaking lawyer and a Chinese-speaking physician; i.e., communication within data system elements are more straightforward than between data system elements. This is because of the siloed nature of data system components – those involved in data access tend to focus on that component relegating communication with other system components to a lower priority – and because the language required for one component tends to cluster in a slightly different space than the language required for another component. More concretely, the Open Geospatial Consortium developed one set of data access protocols while OPeNDAP developed a slightly different set – two versions of English. Crosswalks between these protocols are being developed, increasing the interoperability within the data access component. With regard to data discovery, NASA’s Master Directory has developed a data location protocol as have several other organizations and crosswalks have been developed between these as well. The data access protocols are quite different – English – from the data discovery protocols – Chinese – and there has been very little effort to provide seamless interfaces between the two communities.
  2. Data sharing: For the envisioned system to work, a large fraction of oceanographic data will have to be available via one of a relatively small number of access protocols – individuals have to agree to publish their book in English, Chinese... There was significant discussion at the symposium related to data sharing with a common perception being that scientists do not want to share their data for intellectual property reasons. However, examples provided suggest that, in fact, there are other, possibly more significant, obstacles:
  1. Reputation – PIs do not want to make their data available until they are confident the data are correct; their reputation is associated with the quality of their data,
  2. Level of effort required – the difficulty in sharing data can be a major obstacle – first, the data provider must make the data available so that they are easily accessible and then, they are often asked additional questions about the data. Either of these can result in a significant effort on the part of the data provider.   For optimal sharing, it is essential to minimize the work of the provider, while maximizing the collection of essential metadata.  There is lack of a reward system for sharing data, particularly at a time where data publication does not count toward promotion and tenure in the same way that publishing a paper does.
  3. Where to share is not clear – different repositories are appropriate for different data, and many repositories only accept certain kinds of data, meaning data may have to be separated and published to different places (with different protocols).
  4. Intellectual property – this is the reason most often cited and it certainly plays a role but it may not be the major obstacle to data sharing.

Recognition that concerns about intellectual property may not be the primary obstacles to data sharing suggests an opportunity to increase data sharing in oceanography.

  1. Metadata: Interoperability also requires information, in addition to the data, information that describes the data object at some level. For example, to find a Falkor multi-beam survey, a high level description of the survey – what area it covers, where it is located, when it was collected, etc. – must be accessible in a form that is readily understood in the data system as a whole. For many datasets, this information is generated after the fact; i.e., it is not part of the data collection effort. Hence additional effort is required to generate this information. Different pieces of metadata address different needs in the data system – discovery, use and understanding. Each of these provides for interoperability between or within components of the system. The more complete the metadata, the more interoperable the system, however also the larger the burden on the data provider (2bii above) and the lack of metadata may well reflect on the data provider’s reputation (2bi above). The paucity and inconsistent nature of metadata across datasets is a major obstacle to system-wide interoperability.

Achieving a vision such as that presented requires that a large fraction of those working in oceanographic data management agree on the importance of the interfaces between components, of making data accessible with a manageable number of data access protocols and of the metadata that underlies the interoperability between most of the system components as well as providing basic information about the data. There are, at present, large gaps in the perceived importance of these elements; i.e., a majority of the obstacles to progress are institutional and/or sociological.

  1. The data component of the scientific endeavor is often viewed (as was done in the vision presented) as a standalone element. However, a number of comments in this and other panel discussions made it clear that the data system is an integral part of the scientific endeavor and that it should be viewed as such both from within the data management community and from without. Some of the comments related to this:
  1. Education – scientists are trained with regard to the scientific aspects of their discipline but not about how to interface with, structure, and organize the data. If data interoperability is one of the most important goals for the future, why is there currently no formal, accredited curricula or degree program in oceanographic data management? We need to produce scientists with rigorous abilities to handle data, not as IT managers, but as domain scientists who are competent in data analysis as well (the definition of a "data scientist"). Happily, there are existing resources to establish the needed curricula for academic oceanography, including training in ethical issue concerning data as well (e.g., UNESCO IOC's OceanTeacher and
  2. Model/algorithms – Information produced with numerical models or with data processing algorithms (model ⇨ model and algorithm in the following) is not credible unless the models are generally available; i.e., unless the results presented in the literature are reproducible. The difficulty here relates to the fact that the output of a model is a function of the model, the input data and, often, the hardware on which the model was run. So careful thought needs to be given to how models are archived; it is not a trivial problem.
  3. Published literature should be available as part of data analysis. At present, there is no link between citation systems and data management systems. However, trends in the policies on the reporting of data in publications, data access, data documentation, and assignment of digital object identifiers (DOIs) not just to journal articles but to datasets and maps that are being developed by journal editors (e.g., offer the tools to facilitate the needed links between published literature and data analysis.
  4. Inter-institutional analysis of data – Part of the vision presented involved a user interacting with a colleague about some of his data. In panel 5, Oceanographic Research Organization Essentials: Bricks and Mortar or Virtual, an example of a distributed workshop conducted over the course of a month with members from a several institutions was described. Whether it is two scientists at different institutions or a group of scientists in a distributed workshop, collaborative interaction with data is a sought after capability and yet data systems designed for doing this are not being designed in concert with data systems designed for the analysis of data by the individual. The same comment applies with regard to telepresence.
  5. Situational awareness – In panel 4, Evolving Roles of Research Vessels, the need for 3-d awareness of the data in the vicinity of a research vessel was discussed. Such awareness would rely on many of the same components required in the data panel vision and in (d) above; i.e.,  situational awareness should be undertaken in the context of components of the data system as a whole.
  6. Non-traditional data users – how do non-traditional data users, both those providing and those using oceanographic data, interface with the system? For example, how does the citizen scientist make their data available via the system? How do they interact with the more traditional scientists? Non-traditional contributors to science results and debate (citizen scientists, bloggers, non-degreed practitioners) are and will be increasing their involvement in science data activities. This will create both opportunities and challenges, both to manage the increased participation, and to evaluate the credibility of the resulting data and analyses.

7.         From the Oceans to the Public: Streamlining the path of at-sea observations to meaningful public engagement

Panel discussion moderated by Dr. Dennis Bartels, Exploratorium

Panel Co-Organizer: Ms. Mary Miller, Exploratorium

Panel Participants: Ms. Jenifer Austin Foulkes, Google Ocean; Ms. Allison Fundis, Ocean Exploration Trust; Dr. Kim Juniper, Univ. of Victoria, ONC; Ms. Lily Simonson, Visual Artist; Mr. Richard Vevers, Catlin Seaview Survey

Overview: This session explored the issues of public engagement in ocean science through the perspectives of a diverse panel that included an ocean scientist, an artist, a former advertising manager turned ocean entrepreneur, an educator and ship-board communicator, and a data professional and was moderated by a science museum director, and education policy expert.  The panel’s charge was to explore ways that international audiences can engage more deeply and authentically with the world’s oceans through new communication tools, state-of-the-art technologies and open access to scientific data. The panel discussed the challenges of reaching diverse audiences in a crowded marketplace and the opportunities that digital platforms and open-access data offer to worldwide learners.

Key discussion points:

Significant possible pivot points: From the panel discussion and conversation that followed, three possible significant transition points emerged:

Moving forward: Is it possible to imagine some concrete steps forward from these discussions?  There is no shortage of ideas. The more difficult task may be limiting the number of starting points to a few.  On our list:

Concluding Remarks

Schmidt Ocean Institute convened a symposium to identify opportunities to advance ocean sciences through innovation in technologies, operations, and communications.  According to one of the steering committee members, akin to an exploratory cruise, this symposium was intended to help all of us to better understand the landscape of diverse opportunities in ocean sciences.

The timing of this meeting could not have been better, as the oceanographic community is now at the crossroads, created by an accelerating effect of human activity upon the health of the ocean and a crumbling public support of the needed science.  Yet, numerous exciting advances are taking place in diverse fields of marine sciences with potential to revolutionize our ability to conduct science at sea and understand the ocean.

Dr. Marcia McNutt opened the meeting with the theme of our interdependence and connection with the health of the ocean, and the power of standards in information sharing.  Seven discussion panels followed, highlighting a variety of innovation opportunities at all stages of the scientific research process.

The first panel of the symposium, Technology Integration for the Marine Sciences iterated that ocean science will continue developing and integrating with other subdisciplines, but a tremendous change is needed to match the global scales at which physical oceanography collects data with the small scales of fisheries and biology to enable scientists to extrapolate the available knowledge.

The second panel, Breakthrough Opportunities in Ocean Sciences through Revolutionary Instruments, agreed that increasing the space-time resolution of information about the ocean remains an important goal for oceanographers, and that scientists and engineers are most effective at addressing related objectives when they work together as a team.  Promising opportunities to import instrument technology from other fields, e.g. biomedical research, were emphasized.

The third panel of the symposium, Robotics and the Ocean Frontier, determined that the growing arsenal of platforms has been created with all of the new advancements that the operations demand but now have to be matched to the needs of the community.

The panel discussion on the Evolving Roles of Research Vessels highlighted the new global watershed: new instruments, robots and platforms drive changes in ship design and operations and demand more efficient research vessels.   

Day 2 of the symposium started with the panel discussion entitled Oceanographic Research Organization Essentials: Bricks and Mortar or Virtual? The panel concluded that a changes in communications, including social media, ship to shore telepresence, and others that we can’t even imagine today, are creating new opportunities for lightweight organizational structure, but factors such as trust and reputation still precede virtual collaboration.  

Participants of the sixth panel Ocean Data Sharing and Analytics agreed this discussion could have occupied an entire day of the symposium, but was summed by the notion that the community is still a long way from the ideal data sharing vision, even if most of it is, in theory, possible.

The final panel of the symposium, From the Oceans to the Public: Streamlining the Path of At-Sea Observations to Meaningful Public Engagement  wrapped up the symposium with the notion that research scientists are not alone when doing public outreach; there is now a host of experts in education (teachers, museum docents, aquaria managers) and outreach (writers, artists, communicators) that can help get the job done.

While it’s challenging to summarize a broad range of topics covered by the symposium, a few themes that encapsulate the symposium discussions have been identified through the follow-up conversations with the Steering Committee.  These themes include Communications, Observations, and Discovery as follows:

About Schmidt Ocean Institute

Schmidt Ocean Institute was established by Eric and Wendy Schmidt in 2009 to enable research that expands the understanding of the world’s ocean using advanced technology, intelligent observation, and the open sharing of information. The organization invites selected scientific teams from around the world to conduct collaborative research at no cost aboard its flagship, R/V Falkor, launched in 2012.

Oceanographers interested in working aboard R/V Falkor are welcome to submit research proposals to Schmidt Ocean Institute.  All proposals are evaluated by peer experts representing relevant fields of marine sciences.  Selection of proposals is based upon their intrinsic scientific merit, degree of technological sophistication, and commitment of the researchers to openly share the research outcomes.  Schmidt Ocean Institute’s sister organization, the Marine Science & Technology Foundation, supports the research and development of promising oceanographic technologies.