Our world’s oceans are teeming with life and information. It's easy for scientists who study the ocean to become lost in a sea of endless numbers and graphs. It's harder to find meaningful connections and patterns while drowning in data.
This is because the ocean is an infinitely complex, gigantic and multidimensional volume with length, width, and depth. What's more, it's changing by the second.
Currently, properties of these four dimensions like temperature, salinity, velocity and sea level are largely mapped on flat two dimensional (2D) plots. To study them, our scientists do a lot of mental gymnastics, translating pages upon pages of graphs into multidimensional meanings in their heads.
We think there's a better way.
Meet Ocean Explorer
We’re prototyping tools to allow our scientists to dive with ease into multidimensional data.
Our Senior Software Engineer Emma Krantz and her colleagues are working on two versions of a tool called Ocean Explorer.
This tool aims to bring a greater resolution to the study of dynamic ocean variables, which will help to reduce the barriers between scientists and their data.
“What we’re trying to do is move from data visualisations, which are the equivalent of 2D CT scans, to something like an MRI of the ocean," Emma said.
Ocean Explorer will work across two main versions. First, an immersive experience in augmented or virtual reality. Wearing a headset, users can dive beneath the ocean surface, exploring currents and how ocean variables change over time and interact. Second, a web-based Ocean Explorer. This version allows researchers to manipulate high-quality data visualisations from a desktop computer.
Seas of change
We are living in a period of rapid and unprecedented change in our oceans.
Ocean systems scientist Beth Fulton said, in addition to the impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems, human use of our oceans has increased exponentially.
"Think of the invention of on-land agriculture, the industrial revolution, and then the huge explosion of technology and development that happened on land after World War Two… Now, imagine all of that happening at the same time. That's what's happening in the oceans right now," Beth said.
"It’s really important that we don’t mess the oceans up because this is an ocean planet. If we're going to avoid making the mistakes in the ocean that we made on land, then we need to get ahead of things."
Beth and her colleague Peter Dobrohotoff created the vision for Ocean Explorer. They imagined a tool allowing them to study the impact of this change on our oceans faster, using more of their primary senses.
The current version of the tool is designed to visualise the BRAN2020 dataset, which provides realistic estimates of whole ocean attributes, based on a scientific model. BRAN2020 is a key output of the Bluelink partnership between the Australian Department of Defence, Bureau of Meteorology and us.
The flow of science into decision making
In addition to helping our ocean scientists build this understanding, Ocean Explorer is a powerful tool for communicating ocean science to decision makers.
Jas Chambers is the Chair and Co-Founder of Ocean Decade Australia, a not-for-profit focused on connecting the many industries and Australians that use the ocean to promote sustainable use.
“Being able to have decision makers understand the ocean environment, how it is impacted by the rapid changes that climate change has brought about, but also the increased use of ocean resources, is imperative,” Jas said.
“We have energy systems in the ocean. We want to eat from the ocean. We want to use the ocean from a recreation perspective. It's also a transport highway, so decision makers really need to understand what all of those impacts look like in the ocean system.
“Modeling that is important, and Ocean Explorer is one of these incredibly important tools that will enable them to make better decisions.”
From science fiction to science reality
Our software engineers, designers, scientific computing experts, and product managers are working to leverage cutting-edge technologies to transform the way science is done. The aim: To get future technologies into the hands of our scientists today.
Design Thinking Expert Viveka Weiley said the team is also exploring how Ocean Explorer could benefit other scientific domains.
"We’re beginning to see a path to solutions that can open up scientific fields to more people and create more opportunities to cross disciplinary boundaries," Viveka said.
"And as we look into scaling Ocean Explorer beyond the current prototype, there’s potential for applications in other fields like atmospheric physics, geological exploration and astrophysics."