To expand seagoing scientific capacity at a global scale, Global Oceans developed the Modular Adaptive Research Vessel (MARV) model for time-chartering offshore service vessels (OSVs) and mobilizing them with modular laboratories and instruments for scientific work. As a globally-focused nonprofit, our mission is to bring these assets together as an operational intermediary on behalf of the international science community, for research and capacity development. Our mission is also to develop collaborative research initiatives that are uniquely enabled by MARV capacity.
A New Way Forward
The scale of human activity across our planet continues to impact the health of our ocean. Environmental stressors stemming from climate change, overfishing, plastic and chemical pollution, and resource extraction is resulting in ocean acidification, eutrophication, and biodiversity loss. These impacts are complex and dynamic, and changes are occurring faster than we can measure and understand them.
To undertake meaningful actions to change direction, and to inform the development of sustainable resource policies and conservation solutions, we need to accelerate our scientific understanding of the ocean, at all scales and dimensions: from local to global impacts, from the atmosphere to the deep sea, and of rates of change over time.
The challenge is that the ocean is an integrated biophysical system that exhibits complex behavior that is difficult or impossible to understand, visualize, and predict from individual observations alone.
Understanding the dimensions of system resilience and stability; patterns and drivers of biodiversity; system tipping points, feedbacks, and thresholds; synergistic impacts of multiple stressors on ecosystem function; all at multiple scales – these can only be achieved with advanced computational models, together with an understanding of probable modeling uncertainties; coupled with intensive, multidisciplinary investigations and comprehensive field sampling and analysis.
The science of modeling complex, nonlinear systems, and the computing power required to process such models, is advancing rapidly. The principal constraint now for applying these advances to modeling oceanic systems is in acquiring the scope and resolution of environmental data required to populate them.
From a practical standpoint this is not easy to achieve, especially in the open ocean, the deep sea, the polar regions, and in remote and understudied regions. Yet, we need to build, test, and refine such models to inform decisions about sustainable resource management and conservation, to ensure long term ocean health.
Biophysical computational modeling of oceanic systems that can simulate complex function and behavioral response to multiple stressors and physical drivers will be a principal imperative for twenty-first century ocean science.
The development of autonomous and remote observation technologies that can measure large swaths of the ocean and gather enormous datasets, processed by ever increasing computing power, will contribute to needed measurements – from remote sensing from space, undersea monitoring networks, met-ocean buoys, floats, autonomous gliders, and ocean robots.
But there are also crucial observations and research that can only be achieved by scientists working at sea on scientific vessels equipped with the right instruments and vehicles for access and sampling through the vertical profile of the ocean. The task of increasing capacity for this component of ocean science is a significant challenge stemming in large part from the capital-intensive, high cost of owning and operating scientific research vessels capable of spanning the globe, the majority of which are operated by government agencies and large institutions.
Achieving a greater global presence for research vessels is further constrained by their limited number and concentration in the global North; and by the lengthy time and cost required to transit to remote regions from institution “home ports”. Limits or bans on where some nationally-owned government scientific vessels are permitted to work in territorial waters also hampers international collaboration.
These limitations are tethered to the legacy research vessel ownership model. As a finite set of dedicated fixed-point assets with scheduling committments that are typically assigned years in advance, it cannot scale dynamically to demand, nor can it sufficiently support the rapidly emerging need for international collaboration and capacity development.
How can we resolve this challenge? Building new autonomous technologies for observing the ocean at a wider scale is important, but sometimes what is needed is not a new technology, but a strategy for better utilizing what already exists.
To expand seagoing scientific capacity at a global scale, Global Oceans developed the Modular Adaptive Research Vessel (MARV) model for time-chartering offshore service vessels (OSVs) that are available from the global pool of over 5,500 of these vessels operating in the commercial offshore sector and mobilizing them with modular laboratories and instruments for scientific work. Key to this strategy is an ability to mobilize and demobilize MARVs within a project region, reducing long transits and aligning with local requirements, such as vessel flagging.
Global Oceans partners with a worldwide supply network in a way that expands capacity on a project basis, that can be aligned precisely with project needs, with greater efficiency, flexibility, and lower cost. More than a technology solution, MARV is a business process and system integration solution and an asset utilization strategy.
As a globally-focused nonprofit, the mission of Global Oceans is to enable this capacity, to dynamically bring these assets together as an operational and transaction intermediary on behalf of the international science community, for the benefit of research and capacity development. Our mission is also to develop collaborative research initiatives that are uniquely enabled by MARV capacity.
Making an Impact
What is the potential impact of an expanded, scalable capacity for a scientific human presence at sea that is enabled by MARVs? How can the model that Global Oceans is building help to solve global environmental and sustainability challenges and where should it be focused?
We think important contributions, especially in the deep sea and over expansive and remote regions of the ocean, will be made in generating more comprehensive environmental baseline datasets; in monitoring regional biophysical shifts due to climate change and human impact; in enabling intensive multidisciplinary surveys of habitats and ecosystems that will produce the data needed for advanced ocean modeling; in catalyzing and enabling greater physical capacity for international scientific collaboration; and in supporting a collective effort to train and equip a new generation of ocean scientists and students in developing regions who don’t have access to world-class research platforms and instrumentation.
The collaborative scientific projects that Global Oceans is developing together with international scientists and institutions are each enabled by integration with the MARV strategy and are designed to accelerate the achievement of these objectives. Over the next decade, these projects and initiatives will contribute to building a future of science-based, sustainable ocean policy development and a more globally democratized ocean science capacity.
We are seeking philanthropic funding partners and international scientific and governmental stakeholders to join us in making this effort a success.
Your comments and ideas about these perspectives are important and we want to hear from you!