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The Technology Response to the Arctic’s Challenges
Harlan Doliner
In October, attendees of the Verrill Dana/MOTN (Marine and Ocean Technology Network) symposium “Marine Technology and the North” gathered in Portland, Maine, for an event coinciding with the plenary meetings of Senior Arctic Officials (SAO), also held in Portland. These events brought together leading minds in academia, industry and government to consider Arctic challenges and opportunities.

The symposium was but one example of the current, watershed moment of increased awareness of the importance of the Arctic, high-latitude navigation and the regional and global implications of Arctic climate change.

Under discussion were the vast challenges associated with Arctic and cold water operations. Increased activities in the Arctic require the development of industry standards and technologies to support: Arctic navigation, including subsea and in-ice (surface) operations without GPS, as well as the use of “augmented reality” technology and virtual aids-to-navigation; expansive operation of marine robotic vehicles; enhanced modeling to monitor and predict ice movement and associated hazards; and improved Arctic maritime domain awareness (MDA) and high-latitude operating rules, given the increased commercial vessel transits, scientific explorations, infrastructure development and potential exploitation of resources in the region.

The changing Arctic environment also presents opportunities to accelerate the development and adaptation of marine technology solutions, innovative products, educational programs and international standards enhancing safety and mitigating environmental impact to the region’s fragile ecosystem.

The maritime industry must consider for this region: opportunities for collaboration in data collection and sharing and in technology transfer among industry, research and academic institutions, and key government agencies; availability of U.S. and international marine technology industries’ resources to accelerate innovation, changing the way people and machines work together in the marine environment; and advancements in ocean measurement technology, including underwater acoustic predictions and the monitoring and management of ecosystem interaction.

Data collection and operational sustainability in the Arctic are also key issues. The opening of the Arctic Ocean provides new opportunities to collect information about this vital part of our planet. One major change is the development of big data, supplementing the older model of data obtained from a relatively smaller number of samples/locations and gathered by operating expensive, complex crewed research vessels. While the need for such vessels will (thankfully) never go away, many researchers already use publically gathered (and often publically accessible) data sources, including public and citizen data collection. Public data collection includes systems such as NOAA’s tide and current buoys and IOOS, or the International Ocean Observation System. The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has installed similar buoys in the Arctic and is sharing data through its Data Transport Network.

Citizen data collection is growing as smartphones and other forms of inexpensive technology become more easily accessible and interest in individual scientific study and exploration grows. Smaller ROVs and AUVs can play a role in the citizen science movement because of their size. It must be kept in mind, however, that tourists collecting Arctic data will not be subject to the same scientific practices that professional scientists use while gathering data. For citizen science data to become more valuable, individual data collectors must undergo standards training. But first, we must agree on such standards. Then, we can ensure that the data being collected are good and usable.

Moreover, big data sharing protocols and programs need to be developed.

More precise or sophisticated research data is where robotics joins the fray, though this comes with its own problems. First, there are the issues associated with adapting robotics for the harsh environment of Arctic waters, which tends to punish technologies in the field. In-field adjustments, repairs and spare parts are rarely available options in the far North. This is where special purpose testing facilities come into play. For example, Memorial University of Holyrood, Newfoundland and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Center for Marine Robotics are expanding their testing facilities to accommodate Arctic operations.

There is a necessity for marine technology manufacturers to better understand the needs of high-latitude researchers. Miscommunication could have especially dire consequences if companies fail to produce vehicles that adequately address the needs of the research, exploration and regulatory communities. It makes no sense for researchers to spend their precious funding on robotics or other technologies that do not fully meet their needs.

Eventually there will be far more robotic vehicles operating in the Arctic as the ice continues to melt. This increased activity does not yet have the context of an existing body of regulations governing the operation of unmanned vehicles in general, let alone a version of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) tailored for robotics in the Arctic.

These and other issues, such as the development of international underwater noise standards protective of Arctic sea life, merit an ongoing exchange of information and ideas. Three of the many places to follow the conversations are in this magazine at www.sea-technology.com, The Marine and Oceanographic Technology Network at www.motn.org and www.atlanticmaritimelaw.com.



Harlan Doliner is chair of the Maritime Group at Verrill Dana LLP. He co-wrote this article with Arianna Baker and Christopher Monroe. Baker is in the J.D.-M.A. program of the Marine Affairs Institute at Roger Williams University Law School and the University of Rhode Island. Monroe is an associate and member of Verrill Dana’s Maritime Group.


2017:  JAN | FEB | MARCH
2016:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.