Diving To New Depths

2019-06-10T13:51:56+00:00 June 10, 2019|
(Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce)

(Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing titled, “Ocean Exploration: Diving to New Depths and Discoveries.”

Why It Matters

The ocean is key in regulating the Earth’s climate, supplying over half the oxygen we breathe, providing protein to billions of people around the planet, and supporting the global economy, yet the majority of it remains unknown. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that more than 80 percent of the ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored, due to the cost and difficulty of gathering information. Exploring the ocean is critical to understanding the planet’s vast marine resources, from enriching cultural history through the discovery of shipwrecks to new pharmaceutical discoveries that would aid human health and well-being.

Key Points

Witnesses and subcommittee members spoke with enthusiasm and agreed upon the importance of advancing ocean exploration. Dr. Katy Bell (Founding Director, Open Ocean Initiative, MIT Media Lab) explained that in a high-risk, high-reward field like exploration, sufficient federal funding is necessary to support the enterprise. When there is financial instability, agencies tend to invest in “safe bets” rather than riskier, but potentially transformative endeavors. She emphasized the need to maximize efficiency of discoveries by starting with smaller, more cost-effective tools and platforms for preliminary exploration, then using larger, expensive, ship-based equipment for detailed follow-up. It is important, witnesses added, that data collected from these missions be stored, processed, and annotated so they are accessible and usable for everyone. Since the ocean is a global resource, fully exploring our ocean will require international collaboration beyond the traditional academic structure and must include communities who have historically not participated in ocean exploration. The upcoming U.N. Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development is an opportunity for scientists around the world to collaborate on advancing ocean exploration.

Chairwoman Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7) pointed out that scientists know more about the moon than the deep sea and asked witnesses what can be done to stimulate more interest in ocean exploration. Dr. Carlie Wiener (Director of Marine Communications, Schmidt Ocean Institute) highlighted the need to get ocean exploration to the forefront of the public’s mind. Mr. David Lang (Co-founder, Sofar Ocean Technologies) echoed this sentiment and added that the future of ocean science should follow in the example of the space program. He explained that a generation of space entrepreneurs piqued the interest of the public, which inspired private sector investments, allowing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to focus their resources on research. For ocean exploration to achieve this same kind of interest, it would require cultivating a similar path of intrigue from private and philanthropic groups.

Ocean exploration would be nearly impossible without innovation and technology. Mr. Steve Barrett (Senior Vice President Business Development, Oceaneering International) spoke about how the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles will help shape the future of ocean exploration in the commercial ocean energy and defense sectors. An example of the capabilities of these ROVs was seen during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, where several ROVs provided real-time damage assessment. Continued development and innovation in underwater vehicles contributes to the broader goal of ocean exploration; however, experts agreed the challenge is creating these technologies in a cost-effective way.


“We live on a blue planet. The oceans cover 71 percent of our planet, and yet we have mapped only about 15 percent of the seafloor. Human eyes have seen less than five percent of it. While we have sent 12 people to the moon, only four have gone to the deepest part of the ocean. The ocean is Earth’s final frontier.”— Chairwoman Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7)

“Having a better understanding of our oceans is an important component of promoting economic development. Whether it is ensuring a strong fisheries economy, international trade, recreation, and tourism, or energy exploration, we all benefit from ocean exploration.”— Ranking Member Roger Marshall (KS-1)

“From the perspective of someone who is also relatively new to the ocean exploration enterprise and ocean science […] the thing that was most surprising to me over the last decade has been realizing just how little we know and how much we are actually at the beginning of understanding these systems.”— Mr. David Lang (Co-founder, Sofar Ocean Technologies)

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership          

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