Conference Review: OCEANS 2019 Seattle

From left to right: Rick Spinrad, MTS president; Rick Martin, publisher, Compass Publications; and Jim Hanlon, Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE) CEO, accepting the Compass International Award.

By Fritz Stahr, Ph.D.
Chair, OCEANS 2019 Seattle

More than 1,700 people attended OCEANS 2019 Seattle, October 27 through 31, at the Washington State Convention Center and the new Hyatt Regency in downtown Seattle. The area’s unique history of forward-thinking ocean research, technology development, federal agency and Navy presence, and focus on the blue economy combined to make this a great place to host OCEANS this fall. Co-sponsored by the Marine Technology Society and IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, this year’s meeting was themed “Blue Sky. Blue Sea. Blue Tech.” The conference attracted professionals and students from 38 countries representing industry, academia and the public sector to exchange information and ideas on developing next-generation technologies to work in the oceans for science, resource extraction and remediation.

The local organizing committee, in partnership with the societies and the conference event planner, presented new features at OCEANS 2019 Seattle, including: a Technical Program track for exhibitors in both oral and poster formats; a Start-Up Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall so innovators could catch the eyes of established makers and service providers; and, moving the tutorials, workshops and demonstrations to Thursday. All met with significant success, engaging many people and companies in ways new to them and valuable to all.

Successful activities from prior OCEANS continued—lunches in the Exhibit Hall, where over 120 entities displayed the latest in research and observational tools for the marine environment. The Innovation Theater space in the Exhibit Hall—a feature introduced in 2018—was available to companies, as well as the societies to bring special activities right to the heart of the space. As a special feature, local research institutions and private researchers gathered a small fleet of research vessels at Seattle’s waterfront marina for tours on Monday, which was a classic fall day with bright, blue skies and cool, crisp air.

Some of the popular features of the conference continued, including the Office of Naval Research and Integrated Ocean Observing Systems-sponsored Student Poster Competition, several special Town Halls on key topics such as marine debris and plastics, and a gala reception at the iconic Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP) at the Seattle Center.

The local organizing committee particularly focused on students and young professionals, with several programs aimed to foster their participation beyond the traditional poster competition and student reception. The Canadian government sponsored a group of young women to attend the conference, and several exhibitors volunteered to lead small groups of students around the exhibit floor to introduce them to colleagues and the technology shown there. Further, a number of students participated in the relatively new General Poster session offered as part of the main Technical Program, as well as presenting papers.

The plenaries held first thing each morning offered a selection of new subjects, from Stockton Rush on building a new submarine from carbon fiber to Lisa Vollbrecht on why we all should help design new technology for aquaculture to a panel of scientists and engineers from the University of Washington on how the area offshore the Pacific Northwest is being instrumented to give us warning for the next major earthquake coming from the Cascadia subduction zone. The various society awards programs followed those each day before the first coffee break and the thrice-daily paper presentations.

As usual, the Technical Program featured content across the board of topics for marine technology, from best practices in deploying instruments to best techniques for analyzing data, from key considerations for vehicle design to key attributes of vehicle guidance and control systems, and from results of open-ocean deployments to results of model and lab experiments. The local organizing committee put considerable effort into improving the quality of the program by stringent review of abstracts and challenging authors to make original contributions. Based on some of the immediate feedback from attendees, those efforts paid off in high-quality talks during our 67 sessions presenting over 230 papers and six panel sessions.

The following are this year’s Compass Awards winners:

Compass Distinguished Achievement Award: Presented to an individual whose career includes achievements that have had a significant impact on the fields of marine science and technology.
Recipient – David Rivera

Compass International Award: Presented to an individual, company or organization (outside the United States) for outstanding contributions to the advancement of marine science and technology.
Recipient – Center for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship

Compass Industrial Award: Presented to any industrial firm (excluding government and nonprofit organizations) that has demonstrated outstanding contributions to marine science and technology.
Recipient – L3 Harris ASV

The following are other MTS Awards winners:

Lockheed Martin Award for Ocean Science and Engineering: Presented to an individual who has demonstrated the highest degree of technical accomplishment in the field of marine science, engineering or technology. Recipient – Roger Hine

Ocean News and Technology Young Professional Award: Presented to an MTS member, 35 years old or younger, who has demonstrated leadership in the Society and works in a professional capacity in management, engineering, or research and development in a marine technology field. Recipient – Joshua Baghdady

John P. Craven Mentor Award: Recognizing the long and impactful career of John Piña Craven, the award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding and sustained service to the field of marine technology through mentoring.
Recipient – Andrew Clark

MTS Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an MTS member or member organization in recognition of outstanding accomplishments in fulfilling the objectives and missions of the Society.
Recipient – Donna Kocak

MTS Outstanding Section Award: Presented to an MTS Section in recognition of activities conducted in the advancement of the objectives of the Society.
Recipient – Monterey Section (California)

MTS Outstanding Committee Award: Presented to an MTS Committee in recognition of activities conducted in the advancement of the Society’s objectives.
Recipient – Buoy Technology Committee

MTS Outstanding Student Section Award: Presented to an established MTS Student Section that demonstrates superior performance in the advancement of the Society’s objectives.
Recipient – SRM Institute of Science and Technology – Deemed to be University, India

MTS Fellows: Since 1975, the MTS Fellow title has been awarded to MTS members who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of the Society’s objectives and who have distinguished themselves in their fields.
Recipients – Josh Kohut, John Potter, Ralph Rayner and Ramasamy Venkatesan

Walter Munk Scholar Award: The Walter Munk Scholar Award is jointly awarded by the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans and the Marine Technology Society. The Award is presented annually to a scholar currently enrolled in an undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral program. It recognizes their outstanding contributions in areas fostered by the sponsoring organizations.
Recipient – Alfredo Giron (announced previously at the OCEANS 2019 conference in Marseille in June).

“All of these awardees represent the excellence and dedication to the field of marine technology that is so valued by our society. Their imprint on our community will be long-lasting and impactful,” said Rick Spinrad, MTS president.

Nominations for next year’s award will be accepted from January 1 to May 31, 2020. For eligibility and nomination instructions, visit

A special thanks to all members of the local organizing committee, who put in countless hours to make the OCEANS 2019 Seattle event successful.


Aanderaa accepts the IEEE OES Institute Award. (Credit: Stan Chamberlain)

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