Exploring the Ocean Deep

Conference to cover offshore structures, ocean vehicles, and conditions beneath the sea

7 July 2010

Most of the world—the global ocean that covers 71 percent of Earth—is unknown to us. Although that lack of knowledge is diminishing, it will be a long time before we understand as much about the ocean as we do about dry land. The waters are vast and deep, conditions are difficult, and there is so much yet to learn. Researchers who want to know more about the sea will be meeting at Oceans 2010, from 20 to 23 September in Seattle. The conference is sponsored by the Marine Technology Society and the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society.

Some of the session tracks cover the marine environment (including oceanography, meteorology, and marine life), offshore structures and technology, and ocean vehicles and floating structures. There also is a track on marine law, policy, management, and education. The conference’s main emphasis, though, is on ways of learning more about conditions beneath the sea. Most of the session tracks are devoted to methods for gathering and processing underwater data, including such topics as sonar and underwater acoustics, remote sensing, optical and other types of imaging, data visualization and modeling, and observing platforms, systems, and instrumentation.

There is growing interest in the development and deployment of ocean observatories. That “has ramped up in the past few years,” says Life Fellow Robert Spindel, the conference chair. “The United States and other countries have begun installing long-term monitoring systems in the ocean, similar to land-based weather observatories. There’s new technology involved, but the most important thing is that countries have made a commitment to do such monitoring. For example, the U.S. portion of the Neptune undersea observatory—already operational in Canada—has just been funded, and engineering and plans for its deployment have begun.”

Several plenary speakers from around the world are preparing to discuss their observatory efforts at the conference. They include Asahiko Taira, executive director of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, and Liu Feng, executive director of the China Ocean Mineral Resources R&D Association, who plans to talk about his country’s development of Harmony, a new manned deep-sea research submersible. Nii Odunton, secretary general of the International Seabed Authority, is set to discuss ocean mining. The ISA is the United Nations agency responsible for coordinating seabed activities of countries that are party to the Law of the Sea Convention. The convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

In addition to the global perspective of the plenary sessions, there are special topics of particular interest to the northwestern United States. They include operational and research ocean-observing systems, marine renewable energy, technologies for ecological studies of aquatic life, and coastal hazards.

“There’s considerable interest in tidal energy, resulting in the creation of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, a partnership between Oregon State University and the University of Washington,” says Peter Dahl, one of the technical session chairs. “Tidal power is now close to becoming a reality in Puget Sound.” Dahl is a former associate editor of the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering.

All together, about 450 papers are expected, probably including some on the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, says Spindel, who adds that “it’s too early to organize a technical session that could address the [spill] issues in a knowledgeable and impartial way.”

A central exhibit hall will house 150 to 200 companies and organizations. The exhibits are expected to include booths covering instrumentation, water-quality monitors, mapping devices, maritime robots, and underwater lighting.

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