Marine geospatial data underpins the safety, security and sustainability of shipping and the global ocean economy that is expected to be worth £3.2Tn (US$4.06Tn) by 2030
Governments and regulators around the world recognise that oceans are critical to many aspects of our daily lives, including international trade, food, energy and protection – all within the world’s blue economy.
UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) acting chief executive and UK national hydrographer Rear Admiral (RAdm) Peter Sparkes said all ocean activities related to using and protecting the environment are experiencing transformations thanks to the combined influence of rising populations, increasing incomes, scarcer natural resources, a changing climate and rapidly evolving technologies.
This transformation is also driven by increasing access to ocean data, bathymetry charts and geospatial information, said RAdm Sparkes. “There is a growing understanding that hydrography, and the data we collect, will be key to not only enabling this growth, but helping us to protect our vital marine environment,” he told Riviera Maritime Media.
“At the UKHO, we predict that our global ocean economy will be worth £3.2Tn (US$4.06Tn) by 2030.”
Geospatial data and hydrography are fundamental tools for ensuring safe, secure and thriving oceans. Established hydrographic offices have opportunities to lead in collating these datasets and information to help governments worldwide to better understand the environmental challenges they face and support their efforts to counter them.
“Hydrography and the knowledge it conveys about our oceans should be at the heart of any worldwide initiatives to mitigate against the effects of climate change,” said RAdm Sparkes.
“By embracing a new generation of data assets, we can find the solutions we need to protect the marine environment while helping to deliver a truly sustainable future for the blue economy.”
Hydrographic and geospatial data will also assist governments and organisations in recognising the latent potential of the oceans and the inherent vulnerability of some coastal states and communities.
Bathymetrics helps Pacific island identify flooding risks
Hydrographic data is helping Kiribati, in the central Pacific Ocean, to understand its flooding risks as sea levels are expected to rise.
Kiribati is extremely vulnerable to the effects of tsunamis, tidal surges and sea level rises. To help Kiribati address these challenges, the UKHO used satellite-derived bathymetry to capture depths and seabed classifications.
These can be used to identify areas most vulnerable to flooding risk and to help create data models that enable authorities to predict the impact of sea level rises on these areas.
With more than 100,000 people at risk, this vital foundational information will help the Kiribati Government to create coping strategies and plans to protect island communities and marine environments into the future.
This project has been ordered by the Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme, which supports a range of Commonwealth coastal states to build sustainable and resilient blue economies.
Technology developments enhance ocean surveys
UKHO is working with partners across national and international projects to progress remote access technologies, such as using light detection and ranging (lidar) technology. This allows rapid data collection in shoal waters and has advanced tremendously in recent years.
“While acoustic methods are still required for the most stringent requirements, the resolution and accuracy of lidar surveys are seeing huge gains making the data more useful for a wide range of blue economy activities as well as charting,” said RAdm Sparkes.
“Lidar systems are also utilising modern technologies to reduce their weight and power consumption allowing them to be operated from smaller aircraft and even drones, massively reducing the environmental impact of survey operations.”
Other developments in hydrographic surveys include increasing use of autonomous vehicles for unmanned operations.
“Autonomous vehicles are demonstrating encouraging potential benefits for our profession and will enable us to gather data faster, with greater persistence,” said RAdm Sparkes.
“Autonomy has clear safety benefits as it allows us to conduct routine tasks and surveys in hazardous shoal and rocky areas that would ordinarily place people in danger.”
Conventional multi-beam surveying technology has also developed at pace, enabling UKHO to produce data with horizontal and vertical uncertainties of less than 10 cm.
“This fidelity of data can enable and maintain deep draught ships access to global ports, and in doing so deliver tangible economic benefits to a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on our ocean resources,” RAdm Sparkes explains. “But this is only the beginning.”
There will be more benefits from these new technologies and trends. “As our innovation, protocols, and processes develop further, and our experience widens, the pace of these advances may accelerate,” he said.
Core challenges facing hydrographic offices relate to how they can handle, process, and utilise the vast quantity of data they are now gathering. “This represents a shift in the volume and quality of information we have handled previously,” RAdm Sparkes said. “The use of data science is essential too.”
Artificial intelligence and machine learning enable UKHO to process data more efficiently, enabling teams to focus on data scrutiny.
“This adds value to the data we collect, so that we can enhance and maintain high standards of quality and accuracy,” he continued. “All these advances will benefit so many who are reliant upon our oceans.”
For the maritime industry, these outputs could help ships to navigate more safely in new areas and at efficient speeds, “optimised for the current or tidal stream, potentially shaving hours off a vessel’s voyage – and thereby reducing fuel burn and lowering CO2 emissions,” said RAdm Sparkes.
Timely access to accurate hydrographic data is fundamental to decision making across the spectrum of maritime operations for defence agencies. These include humanitarian aid and disaster relief to counter piracy operations, or dived submarine navigation and amphibious assault operations.
High-resolution bathymetric data can be used to underpin effective marine spatial planning by coastal nations, allowing authorities to unlock economic potential by supporting the development of offshore windfarms, aquaculture, protect marine species, and safeguard critical national infrastructure.
“We are continuing to gather, curate, and provide data to governments, commercial bodies and academia to support safe, secure, and thriving oceans for the future,” said RAdm Sparkes.
“To do so, we are capitalising on outstanding professional talent, while training the next generation of hydrographers and data science professionals.”
UKHO works with partners from across the UK Government and the maritime industry to support growth and adoption of autonomous navigation, while accelerating this technology’s development within the sector.
UKHO also carries out services to deliver on its public task and defence obligations, as the Primary Charting Authority for 71 coastal states around the world.
Data analytics and information management will be discussed in depth during Riviera’s Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week, 7-11 December - use this link for more details and to register for this industry-defining event