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The Changing Relationship Between Humans and the Ocean

J. G. Bellingham*

INTRODUCTION

The coming century will see an explosion of activity in the ocean as terrestrial resources are depleted and advanced technologies drop the cost of ocean access. The growing importance of the ocean to the global economy will simultaneously create a demand for improved understanding of the ocean, provide resources for developing new technologies, and will create a more complex political landscape for addressing ocean issues. Developments we might anticipate include:

  • The ocean will play a growing role as a source of renewable energy

    • Wind farms will be increasingly placed offshore as winds over the ocean are higher than over land

    • Wave energy generation will be a useful source of power for some regions

    • Most solar radiation falls on the ocean

  • The depletion of fisheries will continue to drive the growth of aquaculture, making far more effective use of the ocean for production of food, but also creating serious environmental risks.

  • The advent of carbon markets in some form will create enormous economic incentives to engage in industrial-scale activity to sequester carbon in the ocean.

*

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
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The Changing Relationship Between Humans and the Ocean J. G. Bellingham* INTRODUCTION The coming century will see an explosion of activity in the ocean as terrestrial resources are depleted and advanced technologies drop the cost of ocean access. The growing importance of the ocean to the global economy will simultaneously create a demand for improved understand- ing of the ocean, provide resources for developing new technologies, and will create a more complex political landscape for addressing ocean issues. Developments we might anticipate include: • The ocean will play a growing role as a source of renewable energy – Wind farms will be increasingly placed offshore as winds over the ocean are higher than over land – Wave energy generation will be a useful source of power for some regions – Most solar radiation falls on the ocean • The depletion of fisheries will continue to drive the growth of aquaculture, making far more effective use of the ocean for pro- duction of food, but also creating serious environmental risks. • The advent of carbon markets in some form will create enor- mous economic incentives to engage in industrial-scale activity to sequester carbon in the ocean. * Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute 11

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12 OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 • The largest remaining oil and gas discoveries will occur in the deep ocean, and this domain will become increasingly important as a source of oil. • Mining of metal ores from the seafloor, already attracting sub- stantial private investment, may become an important source of resources for developing countries. • Transportation of goods by sea may be transformed as climate changes modify trade routes (opening of the Northeast Passage, increasing severity of weather). Beyond economic considerations, the security of our country will be directly dependent on the ocean. Some examples of security issues of the future include: • Abrupt climate change involving the ocean could cause seri- ous disruption to economies of both developed and developing countries, creating the potential for political instability. While the probability is hopefully low, the damage could be catastrophic and global, and abrupt climate change must therefore be taken seriously. • The competition for ocean resources could be a catalyst for conflict. • The growth of industrial activity at sea will create a need to pro- tect critical United States (U.S.) infrastructure in comparatively remote regions of the world ocean. • As many nations gain access to advanced submarines, anti- submarine warfare will become an important naval capability again. • Asymmetric threats will multiply as mines and mobile autono- mous platforms inhibit and/or deny access to critical waterways and threaten U.S. interests. While it is a truism that in many respects we know less about the bot- tom of the ocean than we do about the far side of the moon, it is also true that today few taxpayers care about that discrepancy. This apathy towards the state of the ocean will need to change. OCEAN SCIENCE ON A FRAGILE PLANET The ocean sciences are likely to be increasingly driven by the need to understand the ocean’s role in shaping global climate. Science has identi- fied environmental risks which could have catastrophic consequences for the world and for the U.S., and many of these risks are oceanic in nature

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13 J. G. BELLINGHAM (e.g., thermohaline circulation modification, sea level rise, severe storms, ocean acidification, depletion of fisheries, melting sea ice, etc.). At pres- ent, our ability to evaluate the probability of these risks is poor, which is largely due to the lack of intensive programs to understand the ocean’s role in climate and to put in place monitoring systems with advance warning capability. TECHNOLOGY AS ENABLER Technical advances on a number of fronts promise to dramatically improve our ability to work in and on the ocean. However, progress is slow, and, at present, there is no concerted national effort—other than per- haps for satellite systems and some specific military needs—to develop ocean technologies that address existing and emerging societal needs. Techniques for precise identification of species in the laboratory and detection of organisms in the field will be developed. This includes both genomic methods and other techniques which use the morphology, opti- cal, and/or acoustic characteristics of organisms. Methods to measure the state of organisms (e.g., photosynthetic efficiency) will be increas- ingly important as we attempt to characterize the rates of change of key biological indicators. Improved sensors for directly measuring chemical properties of the ocean will become available for key nutrients and tracers. As these sys- tems become smaller and consume less power, they will enable a much more detailed understanding of ocean processes on small space and time scales. Robotic platforms which conduct observations and simple tasks with little or no human supervision are being rapidly adopted. However, these systems are mostly ‘first generation’ platforms and much greater capabil- ity is possible. Over the next decade, new and more capable platforms will be introduced. Infrastructure for delivering power and communica- tion to remote instruments and platforms in the ocean interior will enable a continuous, interactive presence in remote locations. Tools for managing, exploring, and accessing data which allow sophisticated analysis of observations and the development of predictive systems will enable cross-disciplinary research. Physic-based models will become increasingly sophisticated, testable, and, at the same time, more accessible. However, to achieve these advances efficiently and rapidly, more effective funding mechanisms are needed for ocean-science-driven tech- nology and engineering activity.