Meeting a Titanic Challenge for Oceans

What have we learned after 100 years?

On April 15, 1912, more than 1,500 passengers and crew aboard the RMS Titanic perished at sea in one of the most infamous maritime disasters in all of human history. She was the largest ship afloat at the time, but the location of her wreckage remained a mystery until 1985. Many have seen similarities between the sinking of Titanic and the struggles of the gigantic cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the coast of Italy almost 100 years later.

The oceans can indeed be a dangerous place, and the news is replete with stories of the hazards of sea level rise, hurricanes, tsunamis, rogue waves, coastal flooding, shark attacks, toxic spills, oxygen-poor “dead zones,” and even modern-day pirates. On the other hand, the oceans are critical for human life itself. They feed us, regulate our weather patterns, provide over half the oxygen that we breathe, and provide for our energy and economy. Yet there is much we still don’t know about the oceans. Less than 10 percent of the ocean floor has been explored and mapped in a level of detail similar to what already exists for the dark side of the moon, for Mars, and for Venus, and less is understood of the waters beneath the surface than of our atmosphere.

Titanic was thought to be unsinkable. And 100 years later, it remains a metaphor for our continuing conundrum: we think we know what’s critical about our oceans, but we really don’t know the titanic scale of the problem. We need the knowledge provided by sound science and data to inform the responsible use and governance of the oceans, as well as effective management and conservation. We are slowly moving toward an integrated, global ocean science agenda, and yet the scope of scientific discovery remains enormous. The health of the oceans is gaining traction as a socioeconomic, political, and corporate responsibility issue, but progress is slow and expensive.

How can GIS help? How do we advance the use of GIS to make better, more-informed decisions not only about the health and stewardship of our oceans but also as a framework for ocean safety?

Dawn Wright

About Dawn Wright

Dawn Wright joined Esri as Chief Scientist in October 2011 and is responsible for strengthening the scientific foundation for Esri software and services, while representing Esri to the national and international scientific community. She is also professor of geography and oceanography at Oregon State University and has participated in several initiatives around the world over the past 20 years to map, analyze, and preserve ocean terrains and ecosystems. Follow her on Twitter @deepseadawn.
This entry was posted in Industry Focus and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply


  1. Peter Seligmann says:

    There is no question that with soaring populations of people, particularly near the coasts, we are placing stressful demands on marine ecosystems to provide food, energy, and livelihoods for the growing human family. In this climate, I strongly believe that integrated decision making, informed by the most complete and real-time data available, will be ever-more essential to effectively managing and protecting the vital services that our oceans provide us. Such is the science and guidance provided by geographic information system technology.

    While to many the ocean looks uniform or without what we think of as spatial pattern, in reality everything in the ocean, physics, chemistry, biology and human activities are explicit to a time and place. From the bottom habitat up through the water column and at the surface, understanding the ocean means understanding where things happen, why they happen there, and how they affect other areas. That is the essential role of GIS systems – to take broad brush views of ocean processes and human impacts on the ocean and reflect their spatial structure. For example, fisheries are a critically important activity, particularly of coastal areas but now in virtually every part of the 70 percent of the planet covered by oceans. One can think of a fish stock as a single unit and try to manage for sustainability without regard to spatial pattern, but that often does not work very well. Every fisherman knows that fish are not evenly distributed, that there are critical areas of habitat, conflicts with other ocean uses and places that should be off limits. Understanding, mapping and analyzing that spatial pattern to inform policy decisions is possible and imperative in fisheries around the world.

    At Conservation International we are pioneering two approaches to ocean stewardship that rely on spatial analysis. Our Seascape program designates large areas of the ocean, associated with the tropical developing countries around which our mission focuses, to develop an overall approach to sustainable management covering science, policy, and on the water action. The need to understand where action is most needed, and how particular actions like protected areas may address specific problems within a seascape are keys to this approach.
    The second effort is the development of an Ocean Health Index, to measure the status and trends for ocean health in an integrated way across a set of ten societal goals which include clean water, healthy seafood, protection of special places. The index is fully “transparent” in that you may look at an overall score, or the individual scores that go into that overall number. Similarly, one can consider the aggregates score for the world ocean, a single basin, and individual country or an ecosystem – depending on the spatial resolution of the data. The intent is to enable managers and the public to benchmark progress in stewardship. But since much of the management action is local or national, the spatial resolution will become key as the Index is adopted.

    Overall, CI understands, on land and at sea, the importance of spatial analysis in conservation science policy and action. GIS is a reflection of the world we work in, and the world we want to conserve.

  2. Dr. Jane Lubchenco says:

    The recovery of the U.S. economy demands increases in efficiency and resiliency in the face of a complex and rapidly changing world. More than ever, coastal communities that draw a significant part of their sustainability from our oceans need a range of expertise, information, and tools to make decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods. Advancing the use of GIS for decision-making about health, security, and stewardship and a framework for ocean safety requires increased appreciation for the value of this tool within coastal communities, as well as easy access and delivery of simple, easy to use products. NOAA’s core constituents typically want viable strategies and quick answers versus highly technical or complex tools. For example, ships need the most efficient and safe routes to save fuel costs and protect lives and property. Energy companies strive for the most cost effective location for extraction and then movement of raw materials, as well as identifying renewable energy prospects. GIS can help address these and other needs, such as improving disaster risk reduction, identifying vulnerable populations, enhancing food security, and adapting to climate change. GIS can facilitate planning, responding to, and recovering from severe impacts to society, contribute to development of sustainable practices, and encourage collaboration, shared commitment, and leveraging of resources (by bringing together disparate data sources) to inform decisions related to the safety, protection, conservation, and sustainability of our coastal/ocean communities.

    The power of GIS is in bringing together large amounts of data and information into a single map display to enable site characterizations and visualization that connects the scientific information directly to the specific places our user communities and multiple economic sectors care about. Through Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping and similar efforts, such as Ocean.Data.Gov and the NOAA Data and Tools Team (DTT), NOAA should continue working to increase access to and integration of its data, both internally and across the Federal government to support multiple purposes. The DTT has developed a work plan along these lines and is developing a strategy to make NOAA coastal, ocean and Great Lakes mapping data and tools more accessible and discoverable from a NOAA Portal and/or Efforts are also underway to leverage state-held spatial information on coastal and ocean areas through common access and standardization of data, enabling “apples to apples” regional- and local-scale comparisons of conditions and uses. These additional data can lead to better, more informed decision-making about the ever-changing physical, social, economic and environmental conditions of coastal and port communities, along with operational, safety and security requirements.

    NOAA delivers critical geospatial infrastructure and positioning information, ocean and coastal environmental, economic, and demographic data, as well as interactive decision support tools that allow users to quickly incorporate the data into real-time decision-making and longer-range planning to improve the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce, tourism, and recreational use of U.S. waters; reduce risks to the environment and essential coastal habitats; and enhance community resilience in the face of changing sea levels, natural and manmade disasters, and expansions of port infrastructure throughout the Nation.

  3. Denis White says:

    An interesting analysis of large commercial and government-supported fishing fleets would be to map the locations where such fleets take their catch, and identify the countries or corporations sponsoring the fleets, and the target species of fish and any by-species.

    As with the successful stratospheric ozone reduction and the partially successful International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a successful limit on overfishing needs to have as much international agreement as possible.

  4. Hello everybody round the table

    Guess the “International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling” was not as timely efficient as expected as to the beginning. So please try to make a better processable and more stringent but fair contract against overfishing this time.
    Personally I can see only a self restriction for commercial fishing within “national maritime borders”, and limiting the fleets operational radius near there one country. Only this can ensure a sustainable fishing-management.
    (fair would be a “non-imperialistic fishing contract”

    Thank you for your attention.

    Aldo Bertozzi, Zurich

  5. Paul Holthus says:

    The need to better understand and monitor the ocean has never been greater. Government and scientific institutions have limited facilities and resources to obtain marine and atmospheric data. Shipping, offshore oil and gas and other ocean industries, e.g. ferries, fisheries, offshore wind, aquaculture and others, operate thousands of vessels and platforms. These provide tremendous potential for cost effectively collecting ocean data. Leading ocean companies are working to expand and better coordinate the collecting of ocean information from ships and offshore structures through the “Smart Ocean / Smart Industries” program developed by the World Ocean Council (WOC).

    GIS is a critical part of consolidating and managing the increased flow of ocean data and creating the visualizations to aid ocean industries in the safe and responsible use of the oceans. Expanded information from ocean users will help improve the modeling and predictability of weather, ocean conditions and climate change, and will support responsible use of ocean space and resources – with clear benefits for science, government, society, and business.

  6. The best way to improve ocean conservancy and instill a spirit of conservatorship amongst tomorrows leaders is via educational conduits. The youth of today are the policy makers of tomorrow. Many Earth Science processes and ocean conservation issues remain unknown to the general public. The recent digital explosion has created a multitude of competing factors for one’s attention, and between social media, streaming video, smart phones, unlimited access to information on the web and hundreds of cable channels on television, we live in a time with so many choices on what to pay attention to, maybe too many choices.

    The best way to capture the attention and interest of our youth is to infuse education with cutting edge techology that teaches ocean literacy, introducting in schools the concepts and processes that we all must understand in order to preserve and conserve our oceans.

    Another great way to recruit and retain the next generation of ocean scientists and stewards of conservation is to mentor and model science careers for school age children. The new technological capabilities and tools being used in ocean science – submersibles, satellites, SONAR and visualizations are highly engaging and appeal to today’s youth – those who have grown up with more computer keyboards at their fingertips than paper books. Today’s children are ready and suited to step into high technology ocean exploration.

    I am writing a book that highlights the work of real scientists discovering and exploring our ocean realms. If you would like to participate and be featured as a role model for tomorrows ocean argonauts, please get in contact with me!

    Michelle Kinzel,,

  7. Please allow me to introduce another acronym to this discussion – SDI (spatial data infrastructure). The term ‘spatial data infrastructure’ (SDI) refers to a combination of data, technologies (e.g. GIS) and policies that enable simple access to spatial (geographically referenced) data. To do this, the SDI provides simple tools for finding, viewing and downloading data that is of interest to government, private sector, academia and the general public. The notion behind spatial data infrastructure is to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time (and for the right price). Any person with a legitimate need for information should be able to acquire it quickly regardless of where it is or where that person is physically located. Furthermore, each user should be able to add to the picture as operations develop or situations change (e.g. vessels of opportunity).

    The ‘I’ in SDI is deliberately chosen to communicate the concept of a reliable, supporting environment, analogous to a road or telecommunications infrastructure that, in the case of SDI, facilitates access to geographically-related data and information using a minimum set of standards. Cars/trucks are to roads what ‘apps’ are to spatial data infrastructure. The ‘apps’ that run on such infrastructure come in many shapes and sizes and have the potential to convey virtually unlimited packages of information. This is where conventional ‘geographic information systems’ typically come into the picture.

    I would urge you each to have a look at the web sites of the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association ( and the Group on Earth Observations ( The latter will be (we hope) fed ocean information by the Global Ocean Observing System ( While these may seem very cumbersome and bureaucratic we can all do our part by ensuring that local initiatives adopt and adhere to appropriate SDI standards. In this way, local initiatives will, ultimately, coalesce into a global approach (for example, see which is a local initiative built to international standards). Until these important international initiatives gain traction our efforts to accurately describe and understand our oceans will remain, at best, ad hoc.

  8. Historically, geographic information systems have been used by scientists and technologists in support of developing plans for ocean use. We use them to develop spatial models that describe the distribution of ocean resources, and we use them to analyze these models to make predictions about the potential consequences of management plans. We can see, for example, the ecological value in establishing marine protected areas in one place or another, or the economic impacts to fisheries in that region. Because these problems are inherently scientific and technical, it is rare that average citizens (i.e., “stakeholders”) are provided the opportunity to contribute ideas for how ocean space is managed.

    Recently, however, we have developed new GIS technologies that are designed to reach non-technical stakeholders. California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, for example, developed MarineMap (, a web-based application that stakeholders used to design marine protected areas. With little or no training, stakeholders developed MPA proposals that met science- and policy-based guidelines for ecosystem protection. The results were astounding: stakeholders drew over 30,000 MPA designs and each one was automatically evaluated using the best available science and geospatial information. Ultimately, these proposals were whittled down into a handful of proposals and signed into law by the California Fish and Game Commission.

    User-friendly GIS technologies, particularly those that foster collaboration and communication amongst disparate ocean users, empower citizens to understand the nature of marine spatial planning, scrutinize and improve upon existing information, and take ownership of the decisions we make about our oceans. This is the philosophy that is driving our development of SeaSketch (, a new tool for collaborative ocean planning. Using very simple tools, SeaSketch users can draw data from existing sources, such as those published by NOAA’s Multipurpose Marine Cadastre ( or California’s Department of Fish and Game Marine BIOS (, and use these data to draw prospective management plans.

    As Dawn has already pointed out, there are lots of reasons to care about the ocean. And, research has shown that people do, in fact, have lots of opinions about how we manage our ocean environment, regardless of their background. Of course, not everyone can be an oceanographer, marine ecologist, economist or geographer but that need not get in the way of people without a scientific or technical background expressing their opinions and measuring these opinions against the best science and geospatial information. With the right GIS technologies, everyone can make sound, place-based decisions. We are entering a new phase in history, one where anyone with an Internet connection and web-browser can participate in meaningful ways, to develop plans for sustainable fisheries, energy extraction and ocean conservation.

  9. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    It is great to see the excellent and broad participation in the forum thus far! Many thanks to everyone!

    In response to DENIS, great ideas on a productive way to use GIS to meet the challenges of overfishing. It is interesting that at the recent World Ocean Summit in Singapore (videos of which can be found at and a lively discussion at ), the President of Iceland strongly advocated two pieces of technology that are now within reach of most countries:
    - GPS tracking of every vessel for a global system of responsible, safe fisheries
    - barcoding of every fish product along with a UNESCO FAO code of conduct and guidelines.

    He cited the nexus between information technology (including mapping technology) in the last 5-10 years and responsible fisheries as our best hope for reform. It is also useful to know that the success of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (despite the lack of ratification by the US) remains for all of us a profound proof that the nations of the world can come together in service of a responsible future.

  10. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Greetings ALDO – Many thanks for your comment and perhaps my response to Denis White above would also be of interest to you. Please see the links from the recent World Ocean Summit.

  11. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Thanks MICHELLE! Great news about the continued progress on your book! I agree so much that education is critical to our efforts here. There is great hope that NSF can continue to fund such initiatives as COSEE, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence, which just now seem to be gaining the momentum that they need.

  12. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Greetings RANDY – Your post is extremely important and timely, and my thanks for contributing it to our forum. I could not agree with you more on issues of SDI. I would encourage others to visit the links that Randy has provided.

    A parallel effort in SDI for oceans and coast is the International Coastal Atlas Network (ICAN, is a community of practice comprised of a partnership of over 50 organizations from more than a dozen nations. It aims to be a global reference for the development of coastal web atlases (CWAs), which are defined as collections of digital, web-enabled maps and datasets with supplementary tables, illustrations, and information that systematically illustrate the coast, oftentimes with cartographic and decision support tools. These atlases are playing an increasingly important role as elements of spatial data infrastructures at state and national scales, and in assisting regional decision- and policy-making across numerous themes including coastal vulnerability to climate change impacts and population presssures, coastal governance (boundaries, protected areas, etc.), coastal hazards mitigation, marine spatial planning, resource availability and exploitation. Many of these atlases offer discovery, view and download services in line with the INSPIRE Directive in Europe, and the National Ocean Policy and Ocean.Data.Gov in the US.

  13. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Thank you WILL! We can’t wait to see SeaSketch in action at the Esri International User Conference, July 23-27 in San Diego, CA, USA! All best wishes as you continue developing this platform to meet the needs of ocean and coastal stakeholders all over the world, and initially for your beta testers in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand ( , )!

  14. Hi Dawn. Thanks for the info re: ICAN. We have been maintaining an atlas for Newfoundland and Labrador waters for a couple of years now. You are welcome to have a look – The driver behind development of this atlas was growing concern about the impact of fishing, particularly with mobile gear, which is quite common in our waters. We argued that in order to determine the impacts of fishing we would, first, need to ‘know what we know’. I will certainly see how we can link to the larger international effort through ICAN.

  15. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    My thanks Randy. ICAN would greatly welcome this as I can speak as a co-coordinator of the community. The driver behind your atlas matches that of many others in the network, with the broader eye toward effective SDI as well. ICAN will next have a major event at CoastGIS 2013 in Victoria, Canada, and I’ll send you some information on applying as a member (there is no fee, just a statement of support/intent to collaborate; ). We are also now under the auspices of the UNESCO IOC IODE, as well as supported in principle by Esri’s new science agenda.

  16. Guy Noll says:

    In addition to commercial fisheries management, control of ballast water transmission of invasive species from one ecological zone to another is an increasing risk to seafood web sustainability and thus regional and national economic impact. As most controls are based on exchange of ballast water in commercial shipping offshore of coastal waters, sometimes in fairly rough seas (see M/V Cougar Ace), this has an impact on safety of navigation as well. The increasing size of ships to maximize efficient cargo also increases the risk and cost of these controls. Application of Ecosystem-Based Management science and area-based ballast water policies is enabled by ocean use planning tools. In addition, nations should look at their section of common routes, often great circle routing, to actively manage ballast water transfer risks.

  17. Dr. Ben Halpern says:

    It’s tried and true (and tired?) to say it’s all about location, location, location. But that’s the reality, even on the ocean, where most people see the seas as simply vast open space. Everything we do on the ocean, everything we take from the ocean, and every benefit we derive from the ocean occurs in some place. So if we are to fully understand how the coasts and ocean work, and manage them in a way that makes sense, we have to use GIS (even if people don’t realize it’s GIS).

    The innovation and explosion of smart phones with GPS technology opens up opportunities to gather and use geographic information about uses of the ocean in ways that were either inconceivable or prohibitively expensive to gather just a few years ago. Geo-tagged images on photo websites offer the opportunity to observe and track phenomena as they occur (red tides, fishing derby catches, sea turtles hatching, oil spills, etc.), in far more locations than scientists could ever reach. Developing methods for harvesting and processing these vast amounts of data will almost certainly catapult our understanding of the oceans to a new level — call it Ocean 2.0.

    And in the end we need this new information. Management is about influencing the behavior of people in places, whether it be the whole United States, a particular port, or a favorite surf spot. The only way to ensure that we continue to be able to enjoy these many uses and benefits of the oceans while sustaining ecosystem health for the long run is to address head-on the overlap, conflict, and synergies among these different needs. GIS has to be leveraged to make this happen.

  18. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Thanks Ben! I really like the “Ocean 2.0″ metaphor. And your post sitmulates interesting ideas as to the synergy between citizen science and the work of GIS and IT specialists. This notion of people using GIS without realizing that it is really GIS, is part of the powerful and, for some, the uneasy, world of “neogeography” and “volunteered geographic information.” However, I think there is room for everyone, and we need everyone’s participation. It will be incumbent on those of us who are GIS experts to help ensure that people are educated in the proper use and cartographic expression of GIS data. This will be especially key in the oceans and along coasts where there is much greater dynamism (everything always in motion and in multiple dimensions), and greater uncertainty in our measurements and understanding.

    Thanks again, and I hope that others chime on your idea of “Ocean 2.0″.

  19. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Greetings Spatial Roundtable Participants,

    Given that we are using the Titanic as a lens through which to view and discuss critical ocean issues, I’d like to point you to a new MAP STORY just released by Allen Carroll ( and his team at Esri. Please point your browser to:

    which cleverly “map-enables” the original passenger list.

    Some key results as summarized by Allen: “First-class passengers were primarily from affluent European and American cities, while the bulk of third-class travelers were immigrants, many from far-flung locations including Scandinavia, Ireland, Bulgaria, and Lebanon. More than 60% of first-class passengers survived, while only 27% of steerage passengers escaped death.”

    Indeed this is a story of “Geography, Class, and Fate” which may indeed hold true today in many circumstances.

  20. I think what GIS has done more than anything is really give the public see spatial trends in their data which they would not have seen otherwise. The underlying “model” often perceived becomes more evident once visualised. Secondly, WebGIS has already revolutionized the way governments and organizations share their data. In Europe, with the advent of the INSPIRE directive, national mapping organizations are now more obliged to participate in data sharing initiatives. For example Ireland has the largest civilian seabed mapping programme in the world. Seabed mapping has achieved a lot more as a result of data sharing via the INFOMAR Interactive Web Data Delivery System ( and For the first time the public are offered access to high resolution multibeam and LiDAR data from the INFOMAR national seabed mapping programme.

  21. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Wonderful to hear from you on this forum Siddhi, and I am very glad that you mentioned the great work being done in Ireland, as well as the INSPIRE directive, both great exemplars. I have watched the Irish Seabed Mapping initiative for some time now, following on my first visit to Ireland on a short Fulbright in 2004. Thank you for sharing those links and I hope that others will benefit as well from looking up your National University of Ireland, Galway on the web – – the Marine Institute in Galway (which I consider to be somewhat equivalent to our NOAA here in the US) – – as well as the outstanding Coastal & Marine Research Centre at University College Cork – .

  22. Dr. Jane Lubchenco says:

    Public-private partnerships are powerful mechanisms not only to advance a broader and more inclusive agenda for the oceans, but also to leverage private sector investment and accelerate progress toward the development of products and services that support this agenda. Software companies like ESRI are investing in the development of tools that help science agencies like NOAA organize, analyze, distribute, and most importantly, develop a new understanding of their data like never before. Effective partnership allows for the identification of both the highest-priority needs within coastal and ocean communities and industries, as well as the shared resources, expertise, and capacity available to address them. Regional ocean governance partnerships, for example, represent a critical mechanism for directly engaging with federal, state, and other partners on a regional scale to identify and address priority coastal and marine resource management issues. A more recent example involves a partnership with the insurance and reinsurance industry to develop open-source risk assessment model that can provide more accurate evaluations of potential losses due to coastal hazards. The Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction and other appropriate interagency groups, partnered with industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other non-governmental organizations to assemble the resources and expertise needed to make this a reality.

    NOAA has forged innovative partnerships with other federal agency partners (e.g., Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security/FEMA) that have an interest in the preparedness, safety and economic/social resilience of our oceans and coasts, as well as chambers of commerce, nonprofits, public works and transportation organizations, private foundations, industry, and other organizations that share similar or complementary priorities and can help to broaden the network of support. Partnerships with the American Port Association and other navigation communities have been important to advance the President’s National Export Initiative (NEI) and the national goal to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. As the essential transportation link and hub between U.S. manufacturing and production and the world, the U.S. MTS is the economic engine upon which the success of the NEI and other growth strategies depend. Recognizing this need, NOAA is currently developing the Port Tomorrow initiative, a decision-support tool that can help communities incorporate resilience considerations into their port’s long-term infrastructure investments. Related training and technical assistance is then needed to help constituents understand and effectively apply these data and tools to inform decision-making.

  23. Karen Stocks says:

    If the passengers of the Titanic could see the world of today, they would be struck by how much faster things are moving and how much more interconnected the world is. Instead taking nearly a week to cross the Atlantic by steamship, a trip that few had the resources to afford, we now take a few hours to fly across the Atlantic, and millions of people regularly cross oceans and continents, either physically or virtually, through phone and internet.

    GIS in the 21st century needs to rise to the same challenge that transportation met in the 20th century, that of becoming faster and more interconnected. Faster means that the lag-time between the collection of geospatial data and its wide accessibility must condense. While the maritime disasters of ancient times provide archeological treasures of today, the loss of life from tragedies such as the Concordia grounding and the 2005 USS San Francisco submarine crash into an “uncharted” seamount highlight the critical need for the best available bathymetric information. Multibeam data should flow in near-real-time from the many data collectors through quality control checks and into a constantly-updated “best” global bathymetry, and the same should be true of all critical information base layers. This will require a new stratum of data experts working with data collectors, a role that academic libraries and data centers are already beginning to take on, as well as continued improvement in the suite of standards, vocabularies and tools for sharing data.

    Inter-connected means that the GIS of the 21 century needs to accommodate the full spectrum of physical, chemical, biological, and geological data needed to understand complex problems such as global climate change…including the broad spatial scales and differing reference systems. Latitude, longitude, depth and time are not sufficient. For resource managers predicting future fisheries yields, knowing that a trawl sample was taken at the boundary of the oxygen minimum zone, a temporally-mobile feature, is as important as knowing the latitude and longitude. Similarly, knowing how the genomes of bacterial pathogens found on stressed corals vary across different temperature regimes may be critical to predicting how coral health will respond to global climate change, but only if the location of the bacteria with respect to the coral (e.g. in the mucous covering) and the location of the coral with respect to the reef (outer edge of the reef lagoon) and the relative tidal height (just below mean lowest low water) are known, in addition to latitude, longitude, and depth. How will GIS in the future cross spatial reference boundaries to allow investigation and visualization across all scales of earth science data, from the molecule through the planet?

  24. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Greetings Karen and my great thanks for your compelling charge for us to better rise to the demand of the 21st century, particularly with regard to the time dimension, so important for the oceans. The idea of ping-edited, polished, quality-controlled multibeam data in near real-time used to be a pipe dream, but like you I believe it is clearly within our grasp now. I think that the bathymetric attributed grid (BAG) data structure certainly holds great promise in this vein, as the accompanying uncertainty surface and more thorough metadata are critical (and many thanks to the Open Navigation Surface Working Group for contributing this to the ocean community –
    Similarly your call for GIS to truly cross spatial reference boundaries at multiple scales joins a chorus of others who are working toward this “grand challenge.” It will be interesting to watch the development and outputs of your Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) Cyberinfrasture team ( as well as the various IOOS data management and visualization efforts (e.g.,, and many similar initatives. I am glad that you are engaged in this challenge! We need you!

  25. Robin Falconer says:

    100 years ago, to determine the depth of the deep ocean, scientists spent five hours lowering a weight to the bottom to get a single depth. Now, in five hours, over 500 square kilometers can be mapped in deep water. GIS is required to handle and analyse such large spatial data sets, which are typical of modern ocean studies. More importantly, GIS allows a diversity of people to analyse a range of information jointly and then present it to researchers, the public, and policy makers in ways that are easy to assimilate. Fast changing hazards such as sea-state and tsunami arrivals can be conveyed globally to the public in real-time. Making information accessible will lead to better knowledge and understanding of the oceans, enabling more informed stewardship and safety decisions.

    Balancing economic growth and sustainability requires making decisions on allocation of economic, physical, ecological and cultural resources. Good decision making requires shared knowledge. We must develop more forums in which a diversity of interests get together and share. We can use smart technology to assist, however the ultimate key is building networks of people. Networks that span local, national, regional and global levels and the range of ocean resources. A big task but start where we can. For example those who attended the Economist World Ocean Forum in Singapore in February could develop interest groups to continue the discussion and then bring it back to another integrating forum. Do not try to solve everything, just start.

  26. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Dear Robin,

    Thank you for your comments and I agree that the The Economist World Ocean Summit is a great springboard for further discussion. They have a couple of discussion fora following on only 2 of the many speeches given at the summit, and I believe these were posted before the summit actually took place – . I wonder if if would be possible to for them to create more? I am trying to reach them now about this.

    In the meantime, it is great that we have some discussion here to continue to build on, with many to continue I’m sure at our Esri User Conference in July which will have an oceans theme (

  27. Dennis Nixon says:

    Just as GIS has transformed land use planning, it has proven to be an invaluable tool as we begin the process of marine spatial planning. A good example is our recently completed Rhode Island Ocean SAMP (Special Area Management Plan). Spurred by the potential for offshore wind development, our Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island was asked to determine appropriate sites in our offshore waters. We needed to learn and map obvious things like wind strengths and bottom conditions, but quickly realized that our offshore zone was already heavily utilized. We needed to understand where the living resources were, where they migrated and spawned. We also did not want to place turbines in an area of heavy fishing activity. Our commercial shipping industry and the U.S. Coast Guard pointed out major transportation corridors that had to be avoided. The state’s prominent recreational boating industry did not want yacht races affected. Prehistoric Native American sites, now underwater, deserved attention and respect. And one area was removed from consideration late in the deliberations when the U.S. Navy revealed that submerged nuclear submarines routinely transited that zone. Only through GIS could all of these competing uses be displayed in such a way that the ultimate siting recommendations were supported by all of the stakeholders involved. It was a great example of a data-driven decision.

  28. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Thanks much Dennis, as SAMP is a wonderful exemplar to bring up in our discussion. For those reading our forum who are unfamiliar with SAMP, please see as well as this excellent GIS presentation given at the 2011 Coastal GeoTools conference: . I think that the success in Rhode Island also illustrates how various aspects of spatial planning can move forward and succeed despite a certain degree of political strife and controversy occurring in Washington, DC about coastal and marine spatial planning in general. Good data-driven decisions can indeed be made, including in advancing the National Ocean Policy.

  29. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    As a follow-up to Robin Falconer’s post and his idea of continuing discussions beyond the World Oceans Summit that was held in Singapore, I have found that The Economist does have a forum page at entitled: “Engage the communities around oceans in year-round dialogue and debate” with the intro:

    “Although World Oceans Summit, the event, is now behind us, we hope to continue this inclusive dialogue on solutions with our ‘oceans community’. Please feel free to share the link and our content to your followers and we would be happy to continue sharing content on ocean conservation from your organisation.”

    Sadly, it is very quiet there, which can often be the case with such fora, but at least it is there.

  30. Dr. Dwight Coleman says:

    It all begins with a good map! I have been involved in a large number of seagoing ocean exploration missions, marine geophysical surveys, and seafloor mapping expeditions to better understand the nature of the ocean and many of its physical, chemical, biological, geological, and archaeological aspects. Our exploration and survey work relies on the ability to collect very high-resolution geospatial data that needs to be quickly processed, merged with other data sets, and visualized in such a way so scientists and decision-makers can plan dives to the seafloor with remotely operated vehicle (ROV) systems. We build GIS databases in near real-time and rely on GIS data processing tools and 3D visualization and analysis techniques to help us interpret the mapped data, which primarily includes data collected by multibeam echosounders and side-scan sonar systems. We then use the ROVs to investigate, image, and sample (groundtruth) the exploration targets that are identified and prioritized by teams of scientists, including those connected to the operation remotely through telepresence technology. We are doing this now in collaboration with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and their ship, the Okeanos Explorer. The real-time mapping and ROV feeds are managed by the University of Rhode Island Inner Space Center and can be viewed here:

    This capability and exploration program grew out of the vision of Dr. Robert Ballard, the explorer who found the Titanic in 1985. There are millions of shipwrecks throughout the world’s oceans, none more famous than the Titanic, and as we memorialize the 100th anniversary of her sinking, we must also think about how marine tragedies can be avoided and how our understanding of the ocean environment can improve. Better quality marine data management practices and improved marine spatial planning for the ocean environment are key, and GIS can help – it all begins with a good map. The recent Costa Concordia grounding, and other maritime disasters like the Japan Tsunami and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has raised public awareness about the ocean and stressed the need for high quality ocean and coastal management plans, and better maps!

  31. Edward Saade says:

    Over the past twelve years, the key to the tremendous explosion in sea floor mapping and imaging has been due to the significant advances in visualization technologies to support the various acoustic and laser remote sensing devices that generate the mapping products. Technology has allowed us to achieve exceptionally high resolution mapping capabilities, terabytes of data volumes, and single programs that can accumulate continuous products across the deep ocean or 3600 square miles of the entire coast of California. But most important has been the ability to visualize and display these products because of improvements in computer power and the software products that can manipulate and display the data. Through GIS and related visualization devices, these images of the seafloor can be viewed in three dimensions, colorized, flown through and analyzed easily. The understanding of the ocean floor is no longer just the domain of trained scientists, geophysicists and engineers. Because of these tools, the understanding and visualization of rock outcrops, fisheries habitats, near shore erosion and replenishment, fault lines, debris and ship wrecks…virtually anything is apparent and understandable to anyone involved in ocean usage, stewardship, or recreational activity. The future will bring significant improvements in four dimensions of visualization and change detection, as well as delivery to stakeholders and other end-users on any medium or format that they choose.

  32. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Thank you very much for your post DWIGHT, and for making so many important linkages between physical science and archaeology/maritime history, between the Titanic anniversary and our continuing need for maritime safety, hazard awareness and good coastal management! It is so true that it all begins with a good map, and it also begins with a continued curiosity, a desire, and the sheer will to explore despite the challenges (both natural and financial).

    A nice complement to your piece is the Perspectives article that has just appeared in “Science” by Rich Lutz and Paul Falkowski of Rutgers, which uses Cameron’s recent dive to Challenger Deep as a way to advocate for continued scientific and technological advancement in the oceans:

  33. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Dear ED – Thank you for your post and for bringing out the point that the understanding of the ocean floor need no longer be the domain of trained scientists. Indeed, bathymetry is not left out of the world of volunteered geographic information. Several years ago the idea of crowd-sourcing bathymetry, which can be such a huge and complex dataset, was pretty far-fetched. But projects such as Autonomous Remote Global Underwater Surveillance or ARGUS ( ), the work of Zac McCormick of Spatial Networks ( ), and of TeamSurv ( ) are showing the way.

  34. Dawn … thanks for starting this great series of posts. At OpenOceans Global,our goal is to aggregate and creatively present the world’s ocean data, and GIS is the critical element that defines creative presentation. There are so many pieces to the ocean puzzle, many of those pieces viewed differently from the perspectives of the different interests. Our goal is to help the special interests, the public and decision makers to “see” the ocean in a common way and to engage them in that process. Whether it is NOAA, the World Oceans Council, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Woods Hole, or (well the list is long), all are doing great and important work to develop the pieces of the puzzle. The apps for smart phones that Ben Halpern mentioned could well be a source of new and valuable data while also enhancing public engagement. If we can all work together to successfully assemble the puzzle pieces, hopefully, ocean research will be enhanced and our understanding of the ocean will be able to progress more rapidly, too!

  35. Duane Marble says:

    I am coming somewhat late to this discussion but I have the feeling that something is missing. We seem to be talking largely about either the ocean surface or the ocean bottom with little attention being given to the complex spatiotemporal structure of the ocean waters themselves. There are some powerful physical models of the oceans at both the global and regional levels and there seems to be little that our current GIS tools can do to either support their spatiotemporal analysis nor to assist in visualizing their results. I must admit that I am not a physical oceanographer, but interaction with my son (CAPT Doug Marble, USN) has given me at least a layman’s view of what physical oceanographers do.

    One problem, as an example, is that many spatiotemporal models of the oceans (and of the atmosphere as well) make use of the concept of “sigma coordinates” in defining their vertical dimension. E.g., an analysis cell may be 50 m in depth near shore and perhaps 500 m in deeper waters. This was discussed in a 1995 paper by Dr. Chu, Dr. Bedford and myself and brought up again in a keynote talk that I gave in 2005 at GeoComputation ’05.
    As far as I can tell, modern GIS technology still lacks the ability to contribute much in this area or in the visualization of the spatiotemporal results of the model’s operation. I would be most happy to learn that I am wrong about this!

  36. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Greetings Duane,

    We are very honored by your participation in our forum. Thank you very much for bringing up the very important issue of the complexity of spatio-temporal modeling for the water column, between the ocean surface and the ocean floor. The view of the water column is also extremely limited in real time and with a limited capacity to store the data, replay the data or run further types of analysis. Water column data need to be integrated with other data sets such as bathymetry, bottom backscatter, subbottom, seafloor characterizations and more so that a complete picture of the ocean environment under analysis can be obtained. There is a critical need to study the internal structure of features in the water column such as plumes (hydrothermal vent plumes, oil well plumes as in the Gulf of Mexico spill) or schools of fish to obtain fish stocks dynamics, spawning grounds, seasonal habitats and to discern the impact of the climate change on these vital resources. To exploit water column data, an efficient means of reading, processing and analyzing the data is required.

    Happily, I do strongly believe that modern GIS technology is indeed making good progress toward contributing to the visualization of this part of the ocean, including spatiotemporal results of physical, biophysical, and geophysical ocean models. Listed below are some recent references along these lines, including studies that also address geophysical modeling of the *subsurface* below the ocean floor.
    Bernardin, T., Cowgill, E., Gold, R., Hamann, B., Kreylos, O., and Schmitt, A., 2006, Interactive mapping on 3-D terrain models: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, v. 7, no. 10, p. Q10013, doi:10010.11029/12006GC001335.

    Carette, V., Mostafavi, M. A., Devillers, R., Rose, G., and Beni, L. H., 2008, Extending marine GIS capabilities: 3D representations of fish aggregations using Delaunay tetrahedralization and alpha shapes: Geomatica, v. 62, no. 4, p. 361-374.

    Doucet, M., and Paton, M., 2010, 4D visualization and analysis of seafloor vents and plumes: Sea Technology, p. 1-4.

    Doucet, M., Gee, L., Weber, T., Arsenault, R., Mayer, L., Ware, C., and Malik, M., Advanced mid-water tools for 4D marine data fusion and visualization, in Proceedings Oceans 2009 MTS/IEEE, Marine Technology for our Future: Global and Local Challenges, Biloxi, MS, October 26-29, 2009 2009, Volume Session 5.2.2, Paper 090612-005, Marine Technology Society.

    Dunne, D., and Sutton, G., 2006, 3D Web-mapping: Integrating marine data into NASA World Wind: Hydro International, v. 10, no. 9, p. 7-9.

    Hashemi Beni, L., Mostafavi, M. A., Pouliot, J., and Gavrilova, M., 2011, Toward 3D spatial dynamic field simulation within GIS using kinetic Voronoi diagram and Delauney tetrahedralization: International Journal of Geographical Information Science, v. 25, no. 1-2, p. 25-50.

    Ledoux, H., and Gold, C. M., 2008, Modelling three-dimensional geoscientific fields with the Voronoi diagram and its dual: International Journal of Geographical Information Science, v. 22, no. 5, p. 547-574.

    Li, J., Wu, H., Yang, C., Wong, D. W., and Xie, J., 2011, Visualizing dynamic geoscience phenomena using an octree-based view-dependent LOD strategy within virtual globes: Computers & Geosciences, v. 37, no. 9, p. 1295-1302.

    Li, W., Chen, G., Kong, Q., Wang, Z., and Qian, C., 2011, A VR-Ocean system for interactive geospatial analysis and 4D visualization of the marine environment around Antarctica: Computers & Geosciences, v. 37, no. 11, p. 1743-1751.

    Yamagishi, T., Yanaka, H., Suzuki, K., Tsuboi, S., Isse, T., Obayashi, M., Tamura, H., and Nagao, H., 2010, Visualization of geoscience data on Google Earth: Development of a data converter system for seismic tomographic models: Computers & Geosciences, v. 36, no. 3, p. 373-382.

    Zhang, X., Dong, W., Sihai, L., Jiancheng, L., and Chi, T., 2011, China digital ocean prototype system: International Journal of Digital Earth, v. 4, no. 3, p. 211-222.

    At AAG 2012 in New York City, I also briefly addressed 3D/4D visualization of ocean observing system (OOS) and ocean models (e.g., coupled wave/storm-surge inundation models), and the presentation can be viewed at In this regard support for netCDF4 (Network Common Data Form) and HDF5 (Hierarchical Data Format) is critical. Some of this discussion will appear in an article that I have in press for the International Journal of Geographical Information Science, to appear later this year.

    We would be pleased to receive the reference for the Chu et al., 1995 article that you mentioned, as well as any written remarks or slides from your Geocomputation ’05 talk.

    At Esri, we have recently had discussions among software development and product engineers on improving our support of multidimensional modeling for applications in ocean, the atmosphere (particularly in the modeling of airflows through the built environment for geodesign applications), in the Earth subsurface for petroleum and mining, and for defense applications. In ArcGIS v. 10.1 service packs and ArcGIS 11 we will be adding more 3D analytics, and enhancing 3D representation to deal with visualization and interpretation of scientific data, imagery, point clouds, and array data. Some thoughts along these lines may be viewed at

    A lot of work is also being done at Esri to develop better 3D editing and 3D symbology capabilities, as well as measuring distances and angles (

    And finally, just last month Esri began a collaboration with Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment for Microsoft Research and one of the leaders of the WorldWide Telescope project, as well as his Microsoft Research colleague, Rob Fatland of the Layerscape visualization platform, which is powered by WorldWide Telescope ( We will be collaborating with them on several fronts, including extending WorldWide Telescope with additional geospatial analytical capabilities specifically for oceanographic data, including visualization of the water column and associated models. Layerscape is currently being experimented with as a valuable scientific visualization tool by oceanographers at Oregon State University, MBARI, the University of Washington, and the University of Alaska’s South East Alaska MOnitoring Network for Science, Telecommunications, Education, and Research (SEAMONSTER) (

  37. Dr. William Burnett says:

    The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography community frames these types of questions in easy to understand sports analogies. Our community provides the “home field advantage at the away game,” meaning that we understand the environment and its impacts better and faster than our adversaries. This is accomplished through our proven operational concept, Battlespace On Demand, the process by which we translate our knowledge of the current and predicted physical environment – including the inherent variability and impact on sensors, platforms and people – into meaningful operational recommendations that ensure the U.S. military and our allies can conduct operations without hesitation or trepidation. The science associated with measuring, analyzing, assimilating, modeling, predicting and assessing the atmosphere and oceans is always associated with geospatial disciplines in general, and geographic information systems (GIS) in particular. For years, scientists have use 2D (flat map), 3D (volumetric), and even 4D (X,Y,Z + time) GIS tools to enable their respective missions.

    So, how does GIS ensure home field advantage to away games for the U.S. Navy?

    Interestingly, if you peek into the agenda for the major Information Technology and Chief Information Officer conferences around the world, for the past couple of years, the discussion has been dominated by three things: visualization, mobility and big data. I believe that all three of these apply to ensuring home field advantage.

    Visualization. Most of the advances in visualization are driven, not surprisingly, by the gaming industry. Not just in consumer-end resolution/sharpness and smoothness in motion, but in the hardware enabling it. In fact, one can argue that some of the biggest leaps we have experienced in IT have been in GPUs, or graphic processing units. Advances in commercial visualization technologies will be applied to the highly compute-intensive volumetric, temporal visualization of the world’s ocean. Our young and highly-educated Sailors and marines, who have grown up within the high-end gaming environment, will nimbly transition to operate in the embedded virtual environment.

    Mobility. I listed mobility second, but it is probably first and foremost in the minds of the global consumer. Earlier this year, the introduction of the National Mobility Strategy spurred planning by both the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy on how to comply with the directive, and leverage this growth industry. Just the other day, FCC Chairman Julius Genachoski announced in a keynote address at a huge mobility convention in New Orleans, the International CTIA WIRELESS 2012, that “Around the world more people now have mobile phones than electricity or running water. That makes mobile phones the most pervasive technology in history.” For our community, it doesn’t take too much imagination to envision our deployed forces using tablets and smartphones with reach-back capability to cloud computing services, which would provide accurate observations and predictions of the ocean battlespace environment.

    Big Data. The open source advances of data-intensive distribution applications have a promising future for the immense, highly-perishable data sets associated with describing and analyzing the oceans. Advances in big data today are very much driven by the health care sector, but many of the advances in this field can be applied to the oceans, with a little modification. What may take a supercomputer today, could be accomplished tomorrow by off-the-shelf consumer PCs with inexpensive mass storage systems. This would in turn free up the very expensive supercomputers to do even more of the highly complex number-crunching needed to more accurately predict the oceans’ conditions for time scales that exceed today’s five-day forecast.

    Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command is a third echelon operational command reporting to Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. The command’s personnel are located at its headquarters at John C. Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., and at several field activities located around the world. The command’s major subordinate activities include the Naval Oceanographic Office, at Stennis Space Center; Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, Calif.; the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.; the Naval Oceanography Operations Command at Stennis Space Center; and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Professional Development Center in Gulfport, Miss. The command is aligned to and focused on the Navy’s five warfighting disciplines– Anti-Submarine Warfare; Special Warfare; Mine Warfare; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; and Fleet Operations (Strike and Expeditionary) – as well as the following warfighting support disciplines: Navigation, Precise Time and Astrometry, Maritime Operations and Aviation Operations.

  38. Dawn Wright Dawn Wright says:

    Dear Dr. Burnett,

    Many thanks for your excellent post to our Spatial Roundtable, and fittingly just in advance of the Memorial Day Weekend.

    We greatly appreciate it!

    All best wishes with additional thanks for the great service of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography community to our country.