Can Ocean Data Save the World?
Collection used to be the biggest factor preventing ocean industries from using data. These days, the issue is collaboration and data sharing.
The recently launched Ocean Data Foundation hopes to provide the platform that liberates ocean data once and for all.
Mr Bjørn Tore Markussen, CEO of the Ocean Data Foundation, recalls a common problem facing the shipping industry, “Vessels still hit whales and when they do, it can kill these magnificent creatures, damage ships and even injure passengers. Right now there potentially is a lot of information about where whales are and where they are going that can be collected but the data is not shared in a way that allows scientists to effectively pinpoint whales and share this information with ships.”
He adds, “If we have could aggregate key whale data, analyse it and provide that information to shipping companies, they could then incorporate that into their own knowledge base and find their own creative ways to solve the issue. It could be through better route planning or knowing when and how to avoid whales in real time. These shipping companies
could then turn around and share these findings with others thus contributing more data, building the knowledge base.”
In many ways, the Ocean Data Foundation sees itself as a matchmaker of ocean data producers and users. A business, researcher or even the public should have a place where they can add data or explore what’s available. Mr Markussen believes the value of data always comes from the application of it and is hoping that by streamlining the process of data accessibility, application of data to decision making becomes much easier.
“They say you don’t know what you don’t know and that’s true. But the goal of the Ocean Data Foundation is to make it possible to have access to greater amounts of what we do know - data and information,” Mr Markussen states. “Currently, if you ask a question, such as ‘where are whales?’, and don’t have the data in-house to answer it, you kind of reach a dead end.”
He continues, “The Ocean Data Foundation is being built to be a place where you can ask a question, find the necessary data resources and apply what you now know towards a solution without hitting a dead end. Using data from various collection points to solve an issue has far-reaching ocean benefits. We think this approach will create a new era of ocean synergy.”
Creating smart oceans
Mr Markussen is no stranger to the ocean having grown up close to Tromsø in northern Norway. His professional career saw him work in Asia at DNV GL and build up www.veracity.com, DNV GL’s industry data platform. These experiences helped him better understand what was needed for the Ocean Data Foundation.
“The one thing I realised is that idealism alone won’t fix the ocean’s problems. The solution needs to be a mix of idealism, capitalism and industrialism to ensure success,” Mr Markussen says. “For me, this is a chance to go back to my roots. I’m very passionate about the ocean and sustainability. We want to assist everyone who is also committed to this cause by empowering them with the data necessary for solutions.”
The Aker Group in Norway and REV Ocean back the Ocean Data
Foundation. It is also supported by the Aker Group-owned Cognite, one of the fastest growing software companies in the Nordics. As such, the platform and newly recruited core team has previous ocean industry or ocean science ventures allowing it to hit the ground running.
Created as a non-profit, noncompete entity, the goal is for the foundation to build and host a platform where everyone can contribute and be involved because that is what will have the greatest positive impact on the ocean.
Understanding the supply and demand of ocean and maritime data is required before that impact can be achieved. At the moment, supply is plentiful, but demand is limited yet growing. Mr Markussen attributes that to the fact most data are siloed, hard to find, and even harder to fuse together.
“Creating a central hub doesn’t mean just serving up all of the world’s ocean data. The challenge for us is to understand what data has value and to liberate what is in demand. If we can successfully do this, it’s possible to add value to ocean-related fields, such as shipping and energy, as well as education and science,” Mr Markussen reports. “Data probably has more value than we understand. But today people are unaware of how they can share their data and find other sources of data.”
The Ocean Data Foundation has identified three key data sources to begin its work: science, industry, and citizens. Each source has a wealth of information available, but liberating it is not without challenges. Science data, in particular, needs to be handled with care.
“In academia, promotion is a matter of getting credit for your work. Data provenance is very important for scientists and that is why we have put data lineage, entitlement, and citation at the top of our list of challenges to solve. Usually in academics, when research is done, the results aren’t made public until a paper is published. This is a time-consuming way to do things,” Mr Markussen details. “We’re setting up the Ocean Data Foundation in such a way that allows scientists and researchers to publish their results to ensure they receive credit for it before needing to publish a paper.”
Ocean-focused industries obviously collect a lot of data. According to Mr Markussen, even when they are willing, sharing data is easier said than done for industrial data owners. Meanwhile, citizen-science data is useful, nonstandardized, and also a bit overwhelming since there are so many potential sources.
The Ocean Data Foundation has already reached partnership agreements with The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Sintef Ocean, Global Fishing Watch and the World Wildlife Fund and is looking for more. Mr Markussen notes the project requires partners who understand the true potential of what can eventually be accomplished with data.
“Partners ultimately need to share our passion and vision for a better ocean environment. They need to be instinctively curious. They must have a desire to constantly be learning about how they can improve,” he points out. “At the end of the day, what is good for the environment is good for business and policy, so our partners must share that mindset.”
Of course, sharing and storing data presents a unique set of challenges that are different for each partner. With heightened awareness regarding data security, the Ocean Data Foundation understands the responsibilities that come with the project.
“Data liberation is important, but it can’t be done at any cost. We will comply with all local and international rules and regulations regarding data collection and storage and we have legal partners to advise us every step of the way,” Mr Markussen says. “That is a key factor in building trust for the program.”
Igniting the revolution
Environmental and social governance (ESG) is another area being carefully watched by the Ocean Data Foundation. With businesses and policymakers now prioritising environmental reporting, there is a needed for greater support when it comes to managing ESG data.
“Our work is less about a data revolution and more about a transparency revolution. Companies need to show what they are doing and how they are doing it. Especially when it comes to environmental impact,” Mr Markussen notes. “We also know policymakers, asset owners and financiers want the data as well. It allows them to make faster, more informed decisions. The platform can help remove the guesswork and reduce waiting times when it comes to ESG.”
But just like any start-up, Ocean Data Foundation needs proof of concept before it can scale and accelerate. It is something Mr Markussen is aware of as he looks to build trust and contribute to a healthy ocean eco-system.
“We are extremely enthusiastic about what we can accomplish, but the first thing we must do is demonstrate that we can solve problems and help in a meaningful way,” Mr Markussen proclaims. “Data can help the ocean, but only if it is shared and used. This is a vision I strongly believe in.”
Above left: Above left: HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway (far left) at the Ocean Data Foundation launch. Above: The Ocean Data Foundation core team has previous ocean industry or ocean science ventures experience.