Horseshoe Crabs: Essential but in Peril
Dr. Win Watson and Dr. Chris Chabot
Not many things in our world are “perfect,” but horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) come close. They have demonstrated perfect design by proving themselves for approximately 450 million years. They are found both in warm water in Florida and cold water in Maine. They have been captured in deep offshore waters and shallow estuaries and can even survive for a few days out of water. They are truly remarkable creatures, but humans have not treated them very well, and, as a result, there is concern about their future. We have used them as fertilizer and offered bounties to have them removed from clam beds, and we are using them as bait for the whelk and eel fisheries.
Despite all this, they continue to save our lives because their blood provides us with a substance that can be used to detect toxins.
In the 1960s, Jack Levin and Fred Bang showed that horseshoe crab blood contains a substance that produces a highly sensitive response to the endotoxins in the cell wall of harmful bacteria. When the amebocytes in horseshoe crab blood come into contact with these endotoxins, a measurable reaction occurs even with a minuscule amount of endotoxin. Since the 1970s, the Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) test has become a global standard, and all injected medicines and many implants are tested for contamination using LAL. Thus, horseshoe crab blood provides millions of patients protection from life-threatening, gram-negative bacteria during medical procedures.
Horseshoe crabs are also excellent model animals to use for investigating neurobiology and behavior. In fact, in 1967, Haldan Keffer Hartline won the Nobel Prize for work on the fundamental processes underlying vision, largely based on horseshoe crab research. More recently, Dr. Bob Barlow and his colleagues demonstrated that there is a circadian clock in their brain that enhances the sensitivity of their eyes at night. Moreover, we recently demonstrated that they also have separate clocks that control circatidal rhythms, allowing them to anticipate each high tide, emerge from the sediment and forage for food or mate. They are also suitable for biotelemetry investigations because it is easy to attach devices to their carapace.
What can we do to protect this very valuable, overexploited resource? First, work to find better, more sustainable, alternative bait for whelks and eels. Second, continue to pursue an alternative assay for gram-negative bacteria that is as powerful and cost effective as LAL. Third, until that is available, insist on improving the methods used to harvest horseshoe crabs and bleed them for LAL.
Over the past few years, with the help of PSU and UNH students, we have been investigating the impacts of biomedical bleeding on horseshoe crabs from the Great Bay Estuary in New Hampshire.
For some experiments, we hold the animals in enclosures adjacent to the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory and measure their movements using waterproof accelerometers attached to their shells. The advantage of this approach is that we can periodically take blood samples to assess one aspect of their health, hemocyanin levels (similar to human hemoglobin). In another study, we attached ultrasonic transmitters to their shells and then released them back into their natural habitat. These sensors transmitted information about their activity to data receivers moored throughout the estuary.
What have we learned? First, the bleeding process often used by biomedical companies, involving time out of water and exposure to warm summer temperatures, has a larger negative impact than bleeding alone. Second, after bleeding, many animals are less active, their hemocyanin levels drop, and these effects last for weeks, reducing their tendency to migrate into shallow water to mate or forage for food. Third, mortalities often occur after bleeding, typically in the animals with the lowest initial hemocyanin levels. Finally, there are large seasonal fluctuations in hemocyanin levels, with low values in spring and early summer and higher values in late summer and fall.
Our data indicate changes could improve the harvesting and bleeding process.
First, refrain from harvesting animals before and during spawning season, when they are least healthy and when we need them to be healthy to reproduce and sustain the population. Second, throughout the process, from boat to facility and back again, keep them cool and moist to help reduce mortalities and the behavioral and physiological deficits induced by this bleeding process. Finally, consider providing a food supplement post-bleeding to facilitate recovery of normal levels of hemocyanin, and perhaps amebocytes too, prior to releasing the creatures back into their natural habitat.
These changes should help make the necessary horseshoe crab biomedical fishery more sustainable and, thus, prevent us from eliminating this incredibly valuable living fossil from our planet.
What Winston Churchill’s War Rooms Can Teach Your Business
Dr. Armin Ellis
The year is 1940, and newly appointed U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill enters his underground Cabinet War Rooms and famously announces: “This is the room from which I’ll direct the war.”
This was no ordinary bunker. It was Churchill’s technological hub, purpose-built and optimized to support sound information processing, good decision making and efficient implementation 24/7.
The most striking part of the War Rooms was the Map Room, covered in maps of the world, with pins marking the movement of troops and logistical resources by land, sea and air. Colored telephones connected the Map Room to the Air Ministry, the Admiralty and other military and intelligence services. Huge amounts of data were converted to visually digestible insights, understandable at a glance.
From that room, Churchill was able to understand the layers of conflict happening around the world, and he was in a position to recognize trends, resources and logistics on both sides. He had access to core tools, primarily first-rate information gathered and processed by experts behind the scenes.
The Map Room’s real power came from the skillful way information was efficiently prepared and presented. This enabled Churchill to see the evolution of the war on all fronts, without becoming overwhelmed by data. He and others were able to see the big picture, as well as appreciate the finer details.
If Churchill wanted to discuss alternative ideas, even risky or unorthodox strategies, the resources were at his immediate disposal. The support and perspective of stakeholders were available, and his surroundings provided the context and information necessary for his instructions to be easily understood.
Having worked with many leaders and project managers across industries, I’ve noticed patterns for successful execution that are surprisingly in step with Churchill’s practices. My work with decision makers at all levels of leadership, in any organization, has proven to me that we can all get consistently better results and make better decisions by intentionally practicing certain decision-making processes.
As leaders, if we are to take steps that are bold, yet grounded in reality, we must balance both details and vision. To achieve this, a few steps are necessary.
First, devote time and space for making decisions. People often devote time for thinking and planning; they very rarely devote time for the specific act of making decisions. Many leaders put off decisions for as long as possible, but if there is time regularly devoted to making decisions, the quality of decisions improves, along with better execution. I recommend creating a physical location for making decisions, your own version of Churchill’s War Rooms. Proactive, conscious decision making will produce a cadence for your company and can help progress projects efficiently.
Second, use differences of opinion and perspective to your advantage. When building a team, try to include a diversity of ideas. Listen well and apply what you learn to fortify your strategies. Be aware, while diversity of thought is important to help you formulate smart plans, this does not replace your responsibility as a leader to make that final call.
Third, make sure you have the chance to play with “what if” scenarios, including ideas that may seem risky or impossible. The very practice of playing with ideas expands our ability to understand the nuances of properly carrying them out. Playing with ideas is underappreciated, but results in more comprehensive plans and decisions with better understood reasoning.
Fourth, have a sensible system in place to periodically revisit prior decisions. Know that once execution starts there will be unforeseen outcomes, and having a decision iteration process in place will help your team assess whether they are on track to achieve goals and avoid emotionally charged and reactionary decisions.
Fifth, ensure there is a system for communicating with your team. No matter how good your instructions, if you’re dealing with complex issues, your instructions will be misunderstood (or at least executed differently than you’d expect). Eliminating misunderstandings is impossible, but a communications process enables miscommunications to be reined in and corrected.
Ultimately, difficult decisions must be made, and by basing those decisions on the highest quality data available, taking specific evaluative actions, then selecting the decision from a number of options (ranging from the daring to the obvious), you can create the systematic approach for making good decisions and shore up your business against threats and missed opportunities.
Above all, devoting time and space to making decisions really makes a difference. Churchill didn’t leave insight to chance. World War II is now history, but the legacy of his Cabinet War Rooms continues to provide a valuable model for sound decision making.
The Challenges of Powering Future-Forward Ships
Patrick Le Fèvre
The public is aware of self-driving cars and other exciting projects in the automotive industry, but far fewer people have heard about unmanned ships and associated projects that will operate large fleets of vessels capable of navigating from port to port without operational crews. Although in its early stages, projects such as the Maritime Unmanned Navigation Through Intelligence In Networks (MUNIN) have investigated the feasibility of such technologies. The use of unmanned ships will require extreme reliability from the main generator through to the single point-of-load, and the demands placed on power designers will be far beyond anything experienced to date.
Future generations of power supplies for unmanned ships are still under definition. It is important to understand the specificity of the marine segment in terms of environmental needs and regulations. International regulations and standards applying to the marine industry are very complex, requiring an in-depth knowledge of the application and where it will be operated. Power designers must be knowledgeable about marine-specific voltage distribution, combining DC and AC networks, safety regulations and many other aspects, such as operational zones that can vary widely from ship to ship and with the nature of the cargo.
Every country with a maritime sector has its own certification authority with specific demands for local certification, forcing power designers to keep track of the final application where the power supplies will be installed. In general, there is a common group of standards and qualification processes that have similar roots for all countries’ certification, though from country to country and maritime subsegments there are also a number of more specific requirements that increase complexity. There is no de facto percentage of common versus specific standards, thus requiring power designers to start any new project by reviewing a large number of documents prior to designing anything—time consuming but very necessary, hard work.
Marine power supply designers typically combine the requirements from all countries active in marine construction and operation to establish a cross-reference table with equivalence and specific action in the case of major deviations; for example, higher demands on shock and vibration. The toughest requirements per category are then selected and used as reference for designing, verifying and qualifying the final power supply. This is done in close cooperation with the final customer.
Combining this design methodology with an in-depth knowledge of local standards and regulations results in a test protocol that meets international and local requirements. This test protocol is then applied to all products, simplifying not only the final approval, but also confirming the power supply can be used for replacement or system upgrade purposes in any country.
With the increased amount of embedded electronics, the marine industry requires more functionality in a smaller space. Nowadays, ship owners want to equip their vessels with broadband internet connections for both passengers and crew.
As a further example, position tracking systems are built-in and require very compact power supplies operating in a confined environment without a fan. Such power supplies have to be designed for optimized conduction cooling. This requires a high degree of integration of the power circuits. The efficiency needs to be as high as possible because a small housing also means that the cooling surface is smaller. The latest resonant circuits and switching control methods achieve efficiency levels up to 95 percent, and power designers are exploring new technologies such as digital control and new-generation gallium-nitride (GaN) power FET transistors, maintaining high efficiency from very low to high loads.
This is an ongoing process that is mandatory for future unmanned ships where maintenance during operation is almost impossible. Reliability and zero downtime are the rule. Accordingly, power supplies should be able to be connected in parallel for redundancy operation. This requires power designers to integrate more into a smaller package.
Existing power solutions for the marine industry have proven their robustness, and power designers are exploring new technologies to improve efficiency and decrease power consumption and dissipation. Unmanned ships will require a level of reliability that will be close to a mythical zero-faults level and the ability for power supplies to be monitored from a central office anywhere in the world. For the power designer, it will be an incredible challenge to combine state-of-the-art technologies in switching, thermal management, control and intelligence. We are close to a new era where power supplies will become self-controlled and able to diagnose early signs of failure to apply corrective action. This is no longer a dream; it is soon to be a reality.
Harnessing MRE While Protecting the Ocean Environment
Dr. Andrea E. Copping
Marine renewable energy (MRE) is expected to become a key player in the U.S. and international renewable energy portfolio. It’s still a relative “youngster,” with technology development and testing of wave and tidal devices occurring in just the past 10 to 15 years. The most developed technologies include tidal turbines and wave energy converters (WECs). While these technologies can significantly contribute to energy production, the industry has a responsibility to protect marine animals, their habitats and essential ecosystem services.
As technologies are tested and evaluated, regulators are requesting data to investigate impacts to the marine environment. But collecting significant amounts of pre- and post-installation monitoring data in turn impacts this young industry—posing substantial costs, delaying permits and threatening its financial viability. A solution is to leverage data from existing marine technology deployments.
MRE development requires data collection to satisfy licensing requirements. Data from existing marine technology deployments, versus exhaustive data collection, could bolster knowledge about potential effects of wave and tidal device deployments. An example is buoys, platforms, piers and docks. Their hard substrates attract biofouling communities made up largely of invertebrates and algae. These structures function as fish-aggregating devices or artificial reefs. Data from these structures provide understanding that no obvious harm would occur from MRE devices, but some changes in nearby populations is possible.
Another example is export cables for MRE installations that generate electromagnetic fields (EMF) that could affect the orientation, navigation or hunting ability of sensitive species. EMF signatures are not new to the marine environment. Many existing undersea cables used for power and telecommunications, bridges, tunnels and offshore wind farms emit measurable electromagnetic signatures. These existing cables on the seafloor can better inform researchers of impacts on marine animals from exposure to MRE export cables.
Another example is that anthropogenic noise has been shown to affect marine animal communication, navigation and hunting. The sounds emitted by operational MRE devices are found to be of lower amplitude than sounds made by other marine industries like commercial shipping.
But while the impacts of some MRE components can be determined with existing data, there isn’t typically an apples-to-apples comparison for other components; for example, conventional hydro turbines and ship propellers are far more dangerous to marine species than tidal turbines. Understanding how marine mammals, fish, diving seabirds and sea turtles behave around these devices may be the key to determining whether they will be harmed.
WECs and associated floating tidal devices could also introduce the risk of marine animal interaction with mooring lines and draped electrical cables in the water column. There is concern that large marine mammals can become entangled in them, but they are under tension and have no loose ends. This makes entanglement less likely than encounters with lost fishing gear or other ropes and nets in the marine environment.
There are ecosystem concerns as well. Researchers have found that tidal turbines capture kinetic energy from the movement of water caused by tidal currents, causing deviations in water flow and potentially resulting in changes to sediment transport, basin flushing and marine food webs. WECs capture energy from wave propagation and may affect shoreline erosion. Both effects appear to be unmeasurably small with the addition of small numbers of turbines or WECs.
The path forward for responsibly developing MRE involves key activities. Sharing existing information among developers, regulators and researchers can help accelerate the deployment process. One such information-sharing outlet is Tethys, https://tethys.pnnl.gov, which houses all known environmental risk information. The effort to transfer and consistently collect data is underway through the International Energy Agency’s Ocean Energy Systems/Annex IV, with international partners examining how their learning can inform new projects in their jurisdiction and apply to other locations and countries. The industry relies heavily on numerical models that simulate environmental impacts at proposed MRE locations, but better models are needed to more closely describe real-world interactions. More importantly, monitoring data from existing and planned projects is needed to calibrate models. Finally, we need strategically planned international research studies to rapidly and accurately build on the existing knowledge base. Governments must help shoulder the funding burden with industry to help move MRE forward as a viable energy resource and industry.
DOD Preps for Climate Change as Trump Ignores It
Brian La Shier
In its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) officially recognized climate change as a factor worthy of consideration in future national security planning: “Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment…climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.” The report describes the vast geopolitical impacts of climate change anticipated by the intelligence community, including sea level rise, increasing temperatures, food and water scarcity, the proliferation of disease vectors, and the risk of mass migration by vulnerable populations. These risks led DOD to declare that “while climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.” DOD leaders recognized that the U.S.’s existing role in responding to extreme weather events, delivering humanitarian assistance and preserving national security would be made all the more difficult by climate change. Despite the urgent need to deal with these risks and a military highly motivated to adapt, the Trump Administration has chosen to retreat from this issue. By failing to recognize climate change as a global threat in its latest National Security Strategy, the White House has again contradicted the advice of military leaders. Instead, the administration has sought to aggressively dismantle the nation’s climate mitigation policies, slash funding for humanitarian aid and eliminate Earth observation programs that provide essential data to national security agencies.
Undeterred, DOD has continued to better integrate climate risk across its operations and long-term planning and has pursued climate mitigation and adaptation measures in accordance with a broad set of (pre-Trump) Executive Branch initiatives designed to move the entire U.S. government toward a lower carbon footprint, more efficient resource consumption and improved resilience against extreme weather events. The institutionalization of these measures has transformed how DOD does business and has resulted in a more sustainable and agile military. Responsibilities for the development and implementation of these measures have been distributed across the Pentagon. In addition, each of the five service branches has established its own clean energy goals to be achieved through physical infrastructure upgrades, as well as training to adjust behaviors and risk perception among its personnel.
The Navy, at the forefront of climate change awareness, integrated climate considerations into its strategic planning years before DOD-wide policies were enacted. The Navy established Task Force Climate Change (TFCC) in 2009 in response to changing conditions in the Arctic and other regions due to climate change. TFCC would go on to publish the Navy’s 2009 Arctic Roadmap, which served as the key operating guide for the Far North until publication of a DOD-wide Arctic Roadmap in 2014. TFCC also published a broader Climate Change Roadmap in 2010, two years before the first DOD-wide edition was released, which called for improved climatic prediction capabilities and the integration of climate impacts into training exercises and strategic guidance documents. The Marine Corps and Coast Guard are also actively working to address the operational challenges of climate change. The Coast Guard has published an Arctic Strategy and concentrated most of its efforts on increasing its operational capacity there. The Marine Corps has focused on energy efficiency and supply chain vulnerabilities.
Extreme weather events are projected to increase in severity and frequency over the next several decades and will place a greater burden on DOD units, personnel and assets tasked with responding to such events and delivering humanitarian and disaster relief, both in the U.S. and abroad. Climate change consequences will likely heighten the risk DOD infrastructure already faces from severe weather events. Sea level rise and extreme weather could also be disruptive to training operations that rely on reliable access to land, air and sea-based training facilities. DOD retains one of the largest real estate portfolios in the U.S. government, encompassing 562,000 buildings and structures distributed across 4,800 sites worldwide. Extreme weather events could hinder acquisition and supply chain operations that maintain these facilities, potentially influencing the types of equipment DOD acquires and the ways that goods are transported, distributed and stored.
The U.S. military will have to face the fallout of these impacts, with its operations in vulnerable, potentially volatile places. DOD’s ability to meet mission objectives will be strained globally. To succeed long term, DOD must continue to adapt operations, strategies and physical infrastructure to a world shaped by climate change.
2018: The Year of the Returner?
Despite various continuing initiatives, maritime employers are still faced with two key issues: lack of women and the skills gap. With female diversity in maritime falling well below the 10 to 12 percent engineering average and a shortage of candidates, despite rising requirements, we must do something different. If we keep recruiting in the same talent pools, we will keep getting the same results.
The solution? Make 2018 the year of the returnship.
A returnship is basically an internship for experienced workers who want to go back to work after a long break. Despite success in other sectors, returnships are unfortunately rare in engineering, none more so than in the maritime sector. Maritime, like the majority of engineering, really needs to improve its image to attract a diverse workforce.
A 2015 survey by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) found that 70 percent of women in STEM are anxious about taking a career break; 60 percent of STEM women reported barriers in returning to work after a career break; 20 percent of STEM women said employers are not supportive of working mothers; 18 percent said colleagues aren’t supportive either; and 57 percent of women give up their membership of professional bodies before the age of 45, compared to 16 percent of men.
However, maritime is also a sector that is continually innovating. In just the last five years, it has seen huge and unprecedented development in autonomous innovation. But what about progress in recruitment and employee diversity?
Returner programs are designed to attract and enable diverse candidates who are “lost” to traditional recruitment methods. A CV gap is often an insurmountable barrier to recruitment, viewed as a major technical skills and knowledge gap. It can also lead to would-be returners losing confidence in finding a way back to work. That means a huge amount of talent and investment in people is wasted. Returner programs provide a link to this lost talent and attract those candidates wishing to transfer their engineering skills between industries, in the process building a more flexible and responsive workforce for both employee and employer needs. It also bypasses recruitment biases so ingrained in our standard recruitment processes that alienate those with a CV gap or who require a flexible working situation.
Alarmed by the number of “lost women” uncovered by research for its 2016 annual report, the Women and Work APPG report recommends that employers with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programs with guaranteed training, advice and support.
Similarly, the 2016 PWC report “Women Returners” recommends: recruiters and employers reassess how they evaluate a candidate’s potential and work to address the negative bias towards CV gaps; returnships as a route back to mid-to-senior-level engineering roles, with transitional support to upskill and support returnees; and increasing the availability of part-time and flexible opportunities in professional roles to widen the talent pool that businesses can access. The report states many statistics that substantiate the very real business need to re-engage lost talent: around 427,000 highly technically skilled female professionals who are on career break want to return to the workforce in the future; three in five professional women returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, experiencing an immediate earnings reduction of up to a third; 29,000 women who return to the workforce on a part-time basis will be underemployed; two-thirds of professional women could be working below their potential when they return to the workforce; addressing the career break penalty could boost female earnings by £1.1 billion annually; the multiplier effect from the higher earnings and spending power of these women generates additional gains to the U.K. economy of £1.7 billion; and business action, including combating the negative bias towards CV gaps, increasing the availability of part-time and flexible opportunities and helping women transition back to work, can help address the career break penalty.
In direct response to this loss of talent, The Institute of Marine, Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) and WES launched STEM Returners, www.stemreturners.com, in November 2017, a paid 13-week employment placement for professionals returning to work after a career break or looking to transfer between sectors, with the possibility of ongoing employment at the end of the program. The program provides confidence building, training, career coaching, networking opportunities and peer support. The goal is to challenge industry to think differently about CV gaps and flexible working. Wärtsilä, Dstl, ATLAS ELEKTRONIK and Babcock have already signed up, creating opportunities for overlooked talent that deserves more attention.
We Need More Ocean Data
Steven B. Adler, Andrew Hudson and Dr. David Vousden
For hundreds of years, vast amounts of wealth have been extracted from the ocean without knowing much about the ecosystems that provide such bounty. To fill this gap—and sustain the ocean and the people that rely on it to feed their families and support their livelihoods—the world needs more ocean data. And we need it now.
The ocean represents most of Earth’s surface and living space—but is the least explored part of our planet. Improved monitoring, reporting and analysis of ocean data will enable improved daily understanding of what is happening on the surface, below the waves and on the seafloor, and what is happening chemically, biologically and physically. It will also help to catalog our impact, change our behavior and increase the ocean’s sustainable economic potential.
The Ocean Data Alliance, a consortium of private and public entities, represents a first step. We envision a future in which 24/7 ocean observation, data collection, distribution and analysis provide a daily “ocean census” for improved management and decision making in the sustainable use of marine habitats, ecosystems and resources. Leveraging improved ocean data could enable the identification of new ocean uses that create or expand economic sectors and create new jobs. To accomplish this vision, three things are needed.
The first is coordination; coordination and collaboration among ocean data scientists, maritime industries, governments, United Nations agencies and NGOs on common ocean data protocols and standards for the classification and description of ocean biology, chemistry, physics and geology. Data standards take years to develop, and often the best standards languish with delayed market adoption. In the new world of “The Cloud,” it is possible to leave data at its source, harmonize it with a digital thesaurus, dynamically link the sources, and curate it all for improved quality, accessibility and purpose.
The second is open data. A self-governing commons approach to ocean data can transform every data source into a globally relevant contribution to the sustainable development of ocean resources. That approach would treat every data contributor as a data steward, with reciprocal rights for data curation, attribution, security and revenue recognition from derivative works. With technologies like blockchain, it is possible to reward data collection with royalties generated from derivative works, data analytics and data product development, and thereby create a completely new market for ocean data with tremendous benefits for data producers, consumers and intermediaries alike.
The third is market development. The creation of a new Ocean Data Facility financial mechanism will stimulate market demand for ocean observation technology and data to catalytically increase ocean data capabilities, needs and revenue, and serve as proof of concept. The facility would accelerate needed investments in ocean data collection and stimulate the development of new surface, deep-ocean and seafloor data-gathering and management technologies. It would set up geospatial Ocean Data Hubs (ODH) for participating nations, who would develop local data demand, skill and capacity for collecting, analyzing and using open ocean data. Open ODH could be established to perform similar functions for the high seas, oceanic regions beyond national jurisdiction that account for nearly half of the planet.
All of this would require significant new ocean observation technologies and data, leadership at the international level, and new forums for coordination and collaboration between established and new stakeholders.
We all must do this with an urgency and purpose because our seas are rising, warming and acidifying, fish stocks and coastal habitats are under stress, and, as underscored by the Ocean Sustainable Development Goal 14, we have about 10 to 15 years to get a lot of things right before potential ocean “tipping points” might be reached.
Work is already underway to implement this new vision for ocean data. For example, the Agulhas and Somali Large Marine Ecosystems project supported nine African and Indian Ocean countries in an intensive data-gathering exercise between 2007 and 2014. Supported through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and financed through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), this effort dramatically increased understanding of the biological, physical and chemical functioning of this economically significant ecosystem.
To save our ocean and our planet, innovative new financial mechanisms must be developed for ocean data, and new technologies must harmonize how we use the data without changing the way we work. New ocean governance models can be created to spread opportunity and democratize access to critical information. Done together, we can monitor our ocean and better forecast and plan sustainable development in the future
Getting Ready for the Next Wave: The Digital Future
In a recent report, McKinsey looked at the prospects for the next 50 years of cargo shipping, marking 50 years since it first reported on the potential impact of shipping containers on the industry. The new report predicts that digitalization and the use of big data in shipping will be just as disruptive to the market as the introduction of containers was in 1967: “Advances in the use of data and analytics will bring further step changes in productivity. Shipping companies could heed the example of today’s state-of-the-art aircraft, which generate up to a terabyte of data per flight. Coupled with the introduction of more sensors, the better usage of the data that ships and containers generate would allow enhancements such as optimizing voyages in real time (by taking into account weather, currents, traffic and other externalfactors), smarter stowage and terminal operations and predictive maintenance. Data could also improve the coordination of arrivals at port—a major benefit, since 48 percent of container ships arrive more than 12 hours behind schedule, thus wasting the carriers’ fuel and underutilising the terminal operators’ labour and quay space.”
The shipping industry is keenly aware of the need for digitalization, and the potential risks for those who fail to keep up. Recently, ex-DVB bank shipping boss Dagfinn Lunde warned that there is a “digital tsunami” on the horizon that threatens to “wipe out” owners and banks who ignore the effect of digitalization on the maritime industry. This state of affairs can lead to a rush for some to digitize everything possible—and others to bury their heads in the sand and hope it all goes away.
Instead, we at StratumFive argue that while it’s necessary to embrace digitalization, there’s no need to rush blindly toward it. What’s needed is a pragmatic approach. One that looks at maximizing the benefit to seafarers and to the owners and operators who support them, and focusing on the elements that make the biggest difference to the voyage, e.g., voyage monitoring systems that provide weather, security and navigational data. Such systems give owners, operators and shore crew the most accurate picture of where their ship is and what it’s doing. This minimizes the risk from adverse situations, such as storms or piracy, and makes sure the voyage is as efficient and safe as possible.
Companies looking to capitalize on digitalization should focus on giving users the biggest “bang for their buck,” delivering the most value in terms of the impact of the data available for analysis. Weather and navigation are among the biggest factors here. No matter how well optimized a vessel’s engine or trim might be, if you can’t avoid adverse weather or risky situations, this becomes obsolete. Systems that allow hyperaccurate monitoring and analysis of the minutiae of vessel performance are important, but to answer the most pressing questions that seafarers and shipowners have, we need to focus on the bigger picture.
The next phase in the development journey should be to use data sets to build predictive models, using machine learning techniques, based on analytics and data from past voyages. We can already see the examples of this analytical ability in the field of security. One such example is interactive heat maps that highlight the relative risks of piracy in different areas. Using this methodology can find relationships that might otherwise seem counterintuitive. For instance, one might guess that light levels, speed and weather will play a part—but not the day of the week. As it turns out, the risk of piracy is actually higher on certain days. In Somalia, Fridays are days of prayer. Pirates can be divided into two groups: less experienced, opportunistic “part-time” pirates and hardened “professional” pirates. The former group will observe their holy days, while the latter will venture out regardless. So, if a pirate attack occurs on a Friday, it is more likely to result in a hijacking.
This exemplifies a crucial advantage of big data and machine learning. As in all things in shipping, data platforms need to expect the unexpected. The goal should be to create open solutions that can efficiently index and leverage data from a variety of sources. This means we can find and use links between departments and data sets that might not be obvious at the outset, bringing together more data sets to come up with new solutions. This requires us to be bold and adventurous when working with partners. We need to share data. In reality, maintaining a data silo for fear of the competition benefits no one, and, in fact, can have a negative impact on commercial success. With a collective experience that spans decades at sea, and in the fields of meteorology, software development and data science, it’s clear we need to work in a way that enhances good seamanship. At the outset, digital solutions providers need to listen; to ask what shipping and seafarers need to know, rather than creating solutions in search of problems. Through listening, and adopting a pragmatic approach, shipping can master big data and digitalization, rather than drown in their wave.