HALF MOON BAY, CALIFORNIA – While waves that once a year become the monster swells ridden by surfers in the Mavericks surf contest roll toward the harbor of this small fishing town south of San Francisco, oceanographer Tim Janssen sits in an office a block from the sea with a handful of colleagues and two dogs. They’re working on a small sensor-laden device he hopes to deploy by the thousands to gather data on those waves and other ocean conditions.
(From NewsDeeply / by Matthew O. Berger) — Called the Spotter, the yellow space capsule-shaped float is about the size of a beach ball. Solar panels keep its batteries charged and the data gathered by its sensors is beamed via satellite to scientists’ laptops and smartphones. The Spotter is part of an explosion of new, cheaper tools for oceanographic research, giving scientists access to more real-time data about the ocean.
“There’s no better time to have this tech revolution happen than right now,” says Douglas McCauley, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He also serves as a director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, which aims to spur technological innovation to address ocean acidification, rising water temperatures, overfishing and other threats to the ocean.
The types of technologies being developed mirror terrestrial innovations – drones, autonomous vehicles, smartphones.
“Oceanographers, because of limited resources, have always tried to get by with less,” says Mark Schrope, program director of Schmidt Marine Technology Partners in San Francisco, which funds ocean technology startups. “Whatever it is – ocean conservation, ocean data – there’s some technology on land that could really transform that area.”
The San Francisco Bay Area, home to a concentration of engineers, entrepreneurs and marine scientists, is emerging as a center of this new wave of blue technology.
On the other side of the peninsula from Silicon Valley, Janssen’s startup, Spoondrift, will start shipping its $6,000 Spotter this fall. His ultimate vision is a constellation of data-gathering Spotters deployed across the ocean that send back a wealth of high-resolution information that can be analyzed in real time. The current version of the Spotter gathers data on wave height, peak period, peak direction and location.
Janssen pulls up a map of a network of data-collecting buoys operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The red and yellow dots representing the buoys are clustered along the coasts. But most of the open ocean remains a blue void. Even closer to shore, a buoy may be the only one for miles collecting data on sea surface temperatures and wave activity.
Janssen, an oceanographer at San Francisco State University before starting Spoondrift in 2016, says marine scientists have “learned to live with very sparse data.”
“Everyone is building their own instruments but building them for themselves,” he says. “We’re taking it one step further.”
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