An ocean of problems that only data can solve

Image: Kristine Hartmann has spent much of her career in the ocean business. She holds a Master’s degree in Marine Machinery, and after a brief foray in the programming world, she spent nearly a decade at Aker BioMarine, helping them build up their krill product and supply chain with sustainability top of mind. She joined C4IR Ocean as their chief operating officer in 2020

There’s no shortage of sources for ocean data. But unfortunately most of it is tucked away in databases, living in isolation, and not being put to work to save our seas. It’s a challenge that the Aker Group and the World Economic Forum believe they can meet, which is why they established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Ocean (C4IR Ocean).

As Kristine Hartmann, the chief operating officer for C4IR Ocean, tells the story, it all started three years ago in Davos. Aker CEO Øyvind Eriksen was a participant at the exclusive World Economic Forum event, where he joined an environmental session followed by an oil and gas session.

“He realized then and there that these two arenas were discussing the very same problems related to the oceans, but they weren’t talking together,” Hartmann said.

Out of this realization, the seeds for C4IR Ocean were planted. Today they’re in full bloom, serving as the Norway-based, ocean-focused arm of the C4IR network, with a mission to tackle the most pressing problems facing our ocean right now: climate change, overfishing, and pollution.

C4IR Ocean acknowledges that to succeed they are dependent on a plethora of partners – from across academia, NGOs, governments, and the private sector – who have been tapped to share their knowledge, expertise, and more importantly, their data.

“Everyone is aware of the problems in the oceans, and everyone is talking about solutions, but we are doing it in siloes,” she said. This is where C4IR Ocean has an important role to play.

What is the vision of C4IR Ocean?

KH: The big idea behind C4IR Ocean is really to connect people, data, and technology to ensure a healthy and productive ocean. We consider ourselves a “do tank” rather than a think tank because we are working toward specific solutions and results. And one of the things we are doing is the Ocean Data Platform, which is speeding up the ability to collect and share ocean data for all.

What were the challenges with sharing ocean data before?

KH: Much of the ocean data is in silos. In fact there are more than 250 open ocean data sources. On top of that there’s data that the industry possesses, plus all the data from the science and regulatory side. This data is difficult to combine or connect in its current form.

What can the Ocean Data Platform do about all this disconnected data?

KH: We need to use this data to increase our knowledge about the ocean to ensure that we make the right decisions. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the seabed, and this can change if we can liberate the data from the sources and bring it all together.

The Ocean Data Platform is a tool to do just that, providing easy tools for decision-makers and developers to put the data to use.

Do you have an example of how this data can directly help ocean life?

KH: One example is a project with Aker BioMarine. The krill fishing quota is less than one percent, leaving 99 percent for other species to consume. However biomass surveys are performed at very long-time scales of 20 or so years, and the quota doesn’t account for seasonal variations, due to climate change.

That means that if conditions change for a penguin colony as a result of a harsh winter, making them more reliant on krill, the fishing quota would remain unchanged. But if we can collect real-time data, gathered from fishing vessels and autonomous vehicles, and bring it together on a shared platform, the scientists can set the fishing quotas dynamically, redirecting the fisheries to other areas.

Is it challenging to collect and share data?

KH: Most ocean companies are gathering data already. That’s the beauty of new technology; much of this is happening automatically. However there are still barriers to overcome for ocean data sharing. Barriers like ownership and access, liability exposure, and possible future commercial value of data.

To address these challenges we have initiated a project with one of our partners, the law firm BAHR, to establish guidelines for ocean data sharing. Generally, people are more willing to share their data because we all share the same problems. This is the decade of action, and everyone wants solutions to get things done.

What’s the future for C4IR Ocean?

KH: We are focused on running projects that reduce plastic in the ocean, ensure better ocean management, or push us further along toward zero emissions. In addition, all projects should support data liberation, which is a key goal for us.

It’s also important for us to succeed through our partners’ work. We will make the infrastructure available, have the data platform ready, and get the right parties to the table to talk together, and then it’s through the partners that we can achieve our goals.

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