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Robotics and Artificial Intelligence to fill gaps in understanding of ocean science



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A major report published today looking at the future of the sea sets out the opportunities available for the UK to capitalise on its existing strengths in research, technology and the diversity of ocean industries. The report also calls for a global response to the threats to the worlds oceans, and warns in particular of the threats of plastic pollution. 

The Foresight Future of the Sea report, published by the UK’s Government Office for Science identifies four major areas that can deliver opportunities for the UK by exploiting its science and innovation – an improved understanding of the sea, greater co-ordination, a long-term approach to decision making and the increasing global nature of the challenges we face.

Autonomous vessels, robotics and other emerging technologies are creating a new generation of economic activity and are highlighted as an area to focus on. They will allow researchers to observe and map previously unexplored areas of the sea and improve our understanding of the marine environment. The increase in potential from autonomous vehicles means that areas such as data transfer, sensing, communication technology and improved data transfer between autonomous vehicles and satellites, will be of growing importance across the marine economy.

Professor Gideon Henderson of the Department Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, and Oxford Martin Senior Fellow, who is a member of the expert advisory group to the report says

“This Foresight report is extremely timely.  Societies around the world use the oceans for food, transport, and recreation, and rely on their influence on climate, uptake of carbon dioxide, and creation of the oxygen we breathe.  It is increasingly clear that the oceans are vulnerable to change caused by humans:  pollution such as plastics, over fishing, changes caused by global warming. But also that they have much more to offer us; wind, wave, and tidal power, and potential resources we are only just beginning to understand such as unusual genes for new drug development. 

The central call of this report, for a more a joined up approach across the UK government on marine issues, is very welcome.  Co-ordination is essential if we are to benefit from the oceans in new and sustainable ways, and protect this critical global environment.” 

Global concern about the future of the ocean environment, and the need for international cooperation on issues in the areas beyond national jurisdiction, is leading to new cooperation between nations, including an explicit ocean focus in discussions at recent G7 meetings. 

 “Careful consideration of these issues in this Foresight report is welcome, and helps guide future UK policy in this area, so important for future global trade and environmental policy” added Professor Henderson.

The report outlines a number of recommendations to help the UK utilise its current expertise and technological strengths to foster trade links, build marine capacity across the world and collaborate to tackle climate change.