Julien Florkin Business Strategy Technology

AI in Oceans: 5 Revolutionary AI Advancements in Ocean Research

AI for oceans
Explore how AI is revolutionizing oceanography, from deep-sea exploration to conservation efforts, in our latest article.
Share This Post


Ahoy! Welcome aboard our journey into the depths of the world’s oceans, a realm as mysterious and uncharted as the furthest stars in our galaxy. Here, the deep blue waters, home to a kaleidoscope of life and secrets, have beckoned explorers for centuries. But there’s a new kind of explorer on the horizon, one not of flesh and blood, but of circuits and algorithms – Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Picture the ocean: vast, unfathomable, and teeming with life. It covers more than 70% of our planet, yet we know less about its depths than we do about outer space. This great blue wilderness has been a source of fascination, providing sustenance, navigation routes, and a sense of wonder. But beneath the waves lies a world that has remained elusive and enigmatic, largely untouched by human understanding.

Enter the world of AI. In recent years, this revolutionary technology has been making waves, quite literally, in the field of ocean exploration. It’s like pairing an old-world explorer with a futuristic tool kit. AI brings to the table what humans cannot – the ability to process vast amounts of data at lightning speeds, tirelessly, and with precision that would make even the most meticulous oceanographer’s eyes pop.

Imagine AI as a deep-sea diver, delving into places where humans can’t go, uncovering mysteries that have been hidden for eons. From mapping the ocean floor to monitoring marine wildlife, and from predicting climate change impacts to safeguarding our oceanic ecosystems, AI is not just an assistant; it’s leading the charge in a new era of ocean exploration.

This isn’t a tale of replacing human curiosity and ingenuity but augmenting it. AI is not the captain of this ship but rather the most advanced navigational tool we have in our arsenal. It’s the telescope to the stars of the deep, the compass guiding us through uncharted waters, and the net pulling in a catch of data more bountiful than we’ve ever seen.

So, let’s set sail on this exciting voyage. Together, we’ll explore how AI is not just dipping its toes but diving headfirst into the ocean, unlocking mysteries, and helping us understand the heart of our blue planet like never before. Welcome to the thrilling intersection of oceanography and AI, where every discovery is a step closer to unraveling the secrets of the deep.

Historical Context of Ocean Observation

Let’s turn back the tides of time and delve into the historical context of ocean observation, a story that’s as deep and fascinating as the seas themselves.

The Dawn of Ocean Observation

The tale begins in the days when the ocean was a vast, uncharted expanse that stirred both wonder and fear. Early mariners relied on the stars for navigation, but understanding the ocean itself was a mystery. The first step towards unraveling this mystery came with the use of simple tools like tide rods, used as early as the 17th century. These graduated rods were fixed in a position where observers could note the height of the sea level, a rudimentary yet significant start to ocean observation.

The Evolution of Tools and Techniques

As centuries passed, these tools evolved. The 1970s saw the invention of the point tide gauge, a device that marked a significant leap in technology. This automated tool could measure the tide height and record data, offering a blend of high accuracy and ease of use that was groundbreaking for its time.

The Role of Atmospheric Pressure Sensors

Advancing into the 19th century, atmospheric pressure sensors began to play a pivotal role. These sensors, crucial for ocean observations, were used to calculate trends for climate models and construct climate indices. The data derived from these sensors contributed to a range of climatic assessments, from studying sea level changes to monitoring storm frequencies and predicting weather patterns.

Limitations and Challenges

Despite these advancements, the traditional methods of ocean observation were not without their challenges. Issues like the financial burden of deploying drifters, the complex maintenance of global distribution, and the limitations in coverage, especially in areas like the Arctic, were significant hurdles. Moreover, the structure and sensor placement on ships could often lead to measurement errors.

The Onset of AI in Oceanography

It wasn’t until recent decades that a new chapter began in the story of ocean observation. The introduction of AI in the 21st century has been like a fresh sea breeze, clearing the fog of limitations that traditional methods faced. With the acceleration of ocean data growth and the advent of big data, AI’s role in the marine field has been nothing short of revolutionary.

The Advent of AI in Oceanography

AI for oceans

Imagine a world where ocean exploration is not bound by the limits of human capacity, where the depths of the seas are mapped and understood in unprecedented detail. This is the world AI is ushering in for oceanography.

The Early Days of AI

The journey of AI began back in 1956, initially aimed at automating simple, tedious tasks. It was the seed that would grow into the mighty tree of technology we see today. The 21st century marked a pivotal turn in this journey. With the explosion of big data, AI became not just a tool but a game-changer in understanding our oceans.

AI’s Growing Role in Ocean Data Analysis

The oceans hold secrets in their depths, in the form of vast amounts of data. This data, however, is like a needle in a haystack, massive and overwhelming. Here’s where AI steps in, sifting through data at an astonishing pace, unveiling patterns and insights that were once beyond our grasp. From predicting climate change impacts to monitoring marine biodiversity, AI’s role is as vast as the oceans themselves.

Transforming Ocean Exploration

AI isn’t just about data processing; it’s about revolutionizing exploration. Imagine fleets of autonomous underwater vehicles, equipped with AI, mapping the ocean floor, tracking marine life, and gathering data in ways we never thought possible. AI enables these vehicles to navigate the complex underwater terrain, making discoveries that were once considered unattainable.

FathomNet: A Revolution in Ocean Imagery Processing

Step into the world of FathomNet, a groundbreaking platform that’s changing the game in ocean imagery processing. This innovative tool is more than just a technological advancement; it’s a revolution in how we explore and understand the deep blue.

What is FathomNet?

FathomNet is like a digital atlas of the underwater world, a comprehensive, curated library of ocean imagery. Born from a collaboration between MBARI and other institutions, FathomNet serves as a publicly available database of expertly annotated underwater images. Think of it as a vast, evolving photo album of the ocean’s inhabitants and landscapes.

The Impact of FathomNet on Ocean Research

FathomNet’s impact on ocean research is profound. By harnessing the power of AI, it dramatically reduces the time and effort required to process ocean imagery. Where once human effort was the primary tool for annotating these images, AI algorithms now shoulder the bulk of this task, boosting efficiency by an astounding 81% and increasing the labeling rate tenfold. It’s like swapping a rowboat for a speedboat in the race to understand ocean biodiversity.

A Global Image Database for AI Applications

With over 90,000 images representing more than 2,243 concepts, FathomNet isn’t just a database; it’s a treasure trove for AI researchers. It aims to gather over 200 million observations, offering an unparalleled resource for training machine-learning models. This is crucial for advancing AI applications in ocean exploration, from tracking marine animals to monitoring underwater ecosystems.

Community Engagement

FathomNet is more than a tool; it’s a community. It thrives on broad database utilization and high-quality contributions from a diverse range of groups and individuals. The platform’s open-source nature invites scientists, ocean enthusiasts, and AI experts to contribute and utilize its resources, fostering a collaborative environment essential for breakthroughs in ocean science.

The Larger Picture: Ocean Vision AI

FathomNet is a cornerstone of a larger initiative, Ocean Vision AI. This project, backed by the National Science Foundation, leverages AI and machine learning to accelerate the processing and accessibility of ocean video and imagery. By combining the efforts of organizations like MBARI, Ocean Vision AI is building a global network to aid in underwater visual data processing, opening new doors for effective marine stewardship.

Ocean Vision AI: Pioneering Marine Stewardship

AI for oceans

Dive into the depths of Ocean Vision AI, a groundbreaking initiative that’s reshaping the landscape of marine stewardship. It’s not just a project; it’s a visionary approach that combines the prowess of artificial intelligence with the richness of oceanographic data to safeguard our oceans.

The Genesis of Ocean Vision AI

Ocean Vision AI emerged from the collaborative efforts of several leading institutions, including MBARI, NOAA, and various academic partners. It’s like assembling a dream team of ocean explorers, data scientists, and AI specialists, all focused on a singular, ambitious goal: to revolutionize the way we process, analyze, and understand ocean data.

The Project’s Core Objectives

The heart of Ocean Vision AI beats with a mission to streamline the analysis of vast amounts of ocean imagery and data. Traditional methods of data analysis are akin to finding a needle in a haystack – time-consuming and often overwhelming. Ocean Vision AI, on the other hand, is like a high-powered magnet, swiftly and efficiently extracting valuable insights from an ocean of data.

Leveraging AI for Marine Research

At its core, Ocean Vision AI harnesses the power of machine learning and AI algorithms to parse through underwater visual data. This technology is like giving a set of super-powered goggles to marine researchers, allowing them to see and comprehend the ocean in ways never before possible. From identifying new species to monitoring changes in marine ecosystems, the possibilities are as vast as the ocean itself.

Fostering Community Engagement and Collaboration

What sets Ocean Vision AI apart is its commitment to community science and collaboration. By developing an interactive video game, the project engages a wider audience, turning ocean enthusiasts into citizen scientists. This approach democratizes marine research, inviting contributions from a diverse group of individuals, and fostering a global community dedicated to ocean stewardship.

AI Applications in Marine Vehicle Technology

AI for oceans

Imagine a fleet of intelligent marine vehicles, gliding through the ocean’s depths, armed with the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This isn’t science fiction; it’s the present and future of marine vehicle technology, where AI is steering the way towards unprecedented oceanic exploration and research.

Revolutionizing Underwater Exploration

AI’s integration into marine vehicle technology has revolutionized underwater exploration. These aren’t your average submarines or remote-operated vehicles (ROVs); they’re akin to underwater robots with a brain. Equipped with AI, these vehicles can navigate complex ocean terrains, make autonomous decisions, and perform intricate tasks – all without direct human intervention.

Enhanced Data Collection and Analysis

The true power of AI in these marine vehicles lies in their ability to collect and analyze data. Imagine a submarine that not only takes pictures but understands what it sees. From mapping the ocean floor to monitoring marine life behaviors, AI enables these vehicles to gather high-quality data, providing insights far beyond what was previously possible.

Autonomous Marine Vehicles at MIT

Institutions like MIT are at the forefront of this technological wave. Their projects involve developing AI for autonomous marine vehicles, pushing the boundaries of what these machines can do. It’s like training a new generation of ocean explorers, only these students are made of metal and code. Their work exemplifies the potential of AI in transforming our understanding of marine environments.

Improving Efficiency and Safety

One of the biggest advantages of AI in marine vehicles is the improvement in efficiency and safety. These vehicles can operate in conditions that would be dangerous, if not impossible, for humans. Deep-sea explorations, long-duration missions, and operations in extreme environments are now safer and more feasible, thanks to AI.

Success Stories of AI in Oceans

  1. National Geographic Society’s Exploration Technology Lab: This lab has deployed its autonomous Deep Sea Camera System since 2010, amassing over 1,000 hours of video data from various marine habitats across all ocean basins. This rich collection of data has been integrated into CVision AI’s cloud-based collaborative analysis platform, where specialists from the University of Hawaii’s Deep-Sea Fish Ecology Lab and OceansTurn annotate the videos, providing valuable insights into marine life and habitats.
  2. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI): MBARI has been at the forefront of incorporating AI in ocean research through its FathomNet initiative. This platform is a vast underwater image training database that aggregates images from various institutions. The use of AI in FathomNet has greatly reduced the human effort required for data analysis by 81%, while simultaneously increasing the labeling rate by ten times. MBARI’s efforts, backed by the National Science Foundation, form the foundation for the larger Ocean Vision AI program, which aims to leverage AI for effective marine stewardship.
  3. IMT Atlantique: As a winner of the AI for Earth EU Oceans award, IMT Atlantique in France has been focusing on using AI to study and forecast the impact of climate change on oceans. Utilizing Microsoft Azure, their team has built 3D models of ocean surfaces and is developing advanced schemes for modelling and analyzing ocean-atmosphere dynamics. This project represents a significant step in understanding and protecting marine ecosystems.
  4. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI): WHOI scientists have developed AI-driven autonomous underwater robots, such as CUREE, to study marine life in new ways. These robots, equipped with AI, can autonomously track and monitor marine animals, providing insights into their behavior and ecosystem functions. This technology enables studying marine life without human interference, offering a more accurate picture of underwater life.
  5. ExxonMobil and MIT Collaboration: ExxonMobil, in collaboration with scientists from MIT, is pioneering the use of AI in ocean exploration. By leveraging AI software similar to that used in NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, they are developing self-learning, submersible robots for ocean exploration. These robots have the potential to autonomously conduct complex research tasks in the ocean, significantly advancing our understanding of marine environments.
  6. Mercator Ocean International and Copernicus Marine Service (CMEMS): They are using AI for various marine monitoring applications, including the development of a ‘digital twin’ of the ocean. This initiative is part of the European Commission’s Destination Earth (DestinE) project, aiming to simulate natural processes and human activities. The application of AI in this project allows for more effective processing and analysis of environmental data, aiding in the understanding and forecasting of marine heatwaves, ocean currents, and the detection of microplastic patches.
  7. Wärtsilä: This company has made significant strides in autonomous marine technology. They successfully tested an autonomous ferry with full dock-to-dock capability, managing the entire journey without human intervention. This development represents a major step forward in the use of AI in marine navigation and vessel operation, potentially improving efficiency, safety, and reducing environmental impact. Wärtsilä is also utilizing AI in deep-sea mining, employing robots guided by AI for precision in locating and extracting minerals.
  8. AltaSea: They are leveraging AI to accelerate understanding and protection of the ocean. AI is being used to process massive amounts of data for various applications, such as identifying humpback whale songs in underwater recordings. AI also optimizes the growth of carbon-sequestering algae, aiding in climate change mitigation. Additionally, AltaSea is utilizing AI in monitoring and addressing issues like plastic pollution and illegal fishing, enhancing conservation efforts.
  9. China University of Petroleum and Memorial University: These universities are focusing on remote sensing and big-data-based oceanography, using AI for various applications such as meteorological forecast, oceanic disaster prediction, and climate anomaly warning. Their research covers multiple aspects of oceanography, demonstrating the wide-ranging potential of AI in the field.
  10. Hypergiant: This company has created a bio-reactor using AI to optimize the growth of carbon-sequestering algae. This innovation is significantly more effective at absorbing CO2 compared to traditional methods like tree planting. The reactor’s AI system monitors and adjusts various factors to maximize algae growth, showcasing how AI can contribute to climate change mitigation efforts.

These examples illustrate the diverse and impactful ways AI is being utilized in ocean exploration, conservation, and research, highlighting its role in advancing our understanding and protection of marine environments.

Challenges and Considerations of AI in Oceans

While AI has brought about significant advancements in ocean exploration and research, it’s not without its challenges and considerations. Navigating these waters requires a careful balance between technological potential and the practicalities of implementation.

1. Data Quality and Quantity

  • The Issue of Big Data: The ocean is a vast and complex environment, generating massive amounts of data. AI’s effectiveness hinges on the quality and quantity of this data. However, collecting high-quality, comprehensive oceanic data is a challenging task due to the sheer scale and dynamic nature of the marine environment.
  • Reliability Concerns: The reliability of AI predictions depends heavily on the data fed into its algorithms. In oceanography, where data can be scarce or inconsistent, ensuring the accuracy and representativeness of this information is crucial.

2. Environmental Impact

  • Underwater Disturbance: The deployment of AI-driven technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles, can potentially disturb sensitive marine habitats and wildlife. It’s essential to consider the ecological footprint of these technologies.
  • Deep-Sea Mining: AI’s role in facilitating deep-sea mining raises environmental concerns. While AI can enhance efficiency and reduce human error in mining operations, the ecological impact of extracting resources from the ocean floor is a subject of debate.

3. Ethical and Legal Considerations

  • Data Ownership and Privacy: With AI integrating into maritime activities, issues around data ownership, privacy, and sharing become more pronounced. There’s a need for clear legal frameworks and ethical guidelines to govern the use of AI in oceanographic data collection and analysis.
  • Autonomous Vessels: The use of AI in autonomous vessels raises questions about liability and responsibility. Determining accountability in cases of accidents or environmental harm is complex in the absence of human operators.

4. Technological Limitations

  • AI Interpretability: The ‘black box’ nature of some AI systems can be a limitation. Understanding how AI arrives at certain conclusions or predictions is crucial for researchers to trust and effectively use these insights.
  • Adaptability Challenges: The ocean environment is highly variable and unpredictable. AI systems need to be exceptionally adaptable and resilient to changing conditions, which remains a significant technical challenge.

5. Economic and Resource Constraints

  • High Costs: Developing and deploying AI technologies for ocean research can be expensive. Budget constraints can limit access to these technologies, particularly for smaller research institutions or developing countries.
  • Technical Expertise: Implementing AI solutions requires a high level of technical expertise. There’s a need for skilled professionals who can bridge the gap between marine science and AI, which might not be readily available in all regions.

While AI offers transformative potential for ocean exploration and research, navigating its challenges requires careful consideration of data quality, environmental impacts, ethical and legal issues, technological limitations, and economic constraints. Addressing these concerns is essential for harnessing AI’s full potential in a responsible and effective manner.

The Future of AI in Oceans

AI for oceans

As we look ahead, the future of AI in ocean exploration and research holds immense promise, shaped by ongoing innovations and evolving applications. This future is not just about technological advancements; it’s about reshaping our understanding of the oceans and our relationship with them.

1. Advanced Autonomous Systems

  • Smarter Autonomous Vehicles: We can expect more sophisticated AI-driven autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) capable of conducting complex research missions with minimal human oversight.
  • Collaborative Robotics: The development of swarm robotics, where groups of robots work collaboratively, can significantly enhance data collection and analysis in vast oceanic areas.

2. Enhanced Data Analysis and Prediction

  • Real-time Monitoring and Analysis: With advancements in AI, real-time monitoring of oceanic conditions will become more precise, enabling immediate responses to environmental changes and emergencies.
  • Predictive Modeling: AI will play a crucial role in predictive modeling of oceanic phenomena, such as climate effects, ocean currents, and marine ecosystem dynamics, offering valuable insights for environmental conservation and maritime operations.

3. Conservation and Climate Change Mitigation

  • Biodiversity Preservation: AI can aid in tracking and understanding marine biodiversity, contributing to the preservation of endangered species and the maintenance of ecological balance.
  • Climate Change Research: AI’s role in modeling and analyzing the impact of climate change on oceanic systems will be pivotal, informing global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

4. Sustainable Resource Management

  • Fisheries Management: AI can assist in sustainable fisheries management by monitoring fish stocks and predicting migration patterns, helping to prevent overfishing and promote ocean health.
  • Renewable Energy Optimization: AI will be instrumental in optimizing the operation and maintenance of offshore renewable energy sources, such as wind and tidal energy, contributing to the transition to clean energy.

5. Deep-Sea Exploration and Mining

  • Exploring the Uncharted Depths: AI technologies will enable deeper exploration of the ocean, uncovering new species, geological features, and potentially valuable resources.
  • Responsible Deep-Sea Mining: AI could provide the means for more responsible and efficient deep-sea mining practices, minimizing environmental impact while extracting resources.

6. Education and Public Engagement

  • Interactive Learning Tools: AI-driven virtual and augmented reality experiences will enhance public education and engagement in ocean science, fostering a deeper connection and awareness of marine environments.
  • Citizen Science Initiatives: AI tools will enable more effective citizen science, allowing individuals and communities to contribute to ocean research and conservation efforts.

The future of AI in the oceans is a blend of scientific exploration, environmental stewardship, and technological innovation. It presents an opportunity not only to uncover the mysteries of the deep but also to foster a sustainable and harmonious relationship with our planet’s vital marine ecosystems. The journey ahead is as vast and exciting as the oceans themselves.


AI for oceans

As we conclude this deep dive into the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its integration with ocean exploration and research, it’s clear that we stand on the brink of a new era in marine science. The journey we’ve embarked upon reveals a future where AI not only complements but significantly amplifies our understanding of the oceanic world.

The advancements in AI have opened doors to possibilities that once seemed like the stuff of science fiction. From the depths of the Mariana Trench to the vast expanse of the Arctic ice, AI-enabled technologies are reshaping our approach to oceanography. We’ve seen how AI-driven autonomous vehicles can unravel mysteries of the deep sea, and how machine learning models can interpret complex oceanic data, transforming it into actionable insights.

This journey also sheds light on the profound impact AI has on conservation efforts. By enabling more precise monitoring of marine ecosystems, AI aids in protecting biodiversity and mitigating the effects of climate change. The potential for AI to contribute to sustainable fisheries and clean energy sources like offshore wind farms illustrates its role in promoting a harmonious balance between human activities and ocean health.

However, as with any great exploration, challenges abound. Navigating issues of data accuracy, environmental impacts, ethical considerations, and technological limitations requires a multidisciplinary effort. It underscores the need for continued collaboration between scientists, technologists, policymakers, and educators.

Looking to the future, the potential of AI in ocean research is boundless. As AI technology continues to evolve, so will our capabilities to explore, understand, and protect the oceans. The integration of AI in oceanography is not just about harnessing a powerful technological tool; it’s about fostering a deeper connection with one of our planet’s most vital resources.

In essence, AI stands not just as a tool but as a beacon, guiding us towards a more informed and sustainable interaction with our oceans. As we continue to chart these unexplored waters, AI will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping the future of ocean exploration and stewardship. The journey is as vast as the oceans themselves, and AI is our most capable and promising navigator.


Key ConceptsDescription
AI in Ocean Exploration and ResearchDescribes the integration of AI technologies in marine science, focusing on their application in oceanography for data analysis, autonomous exploration, and environmental monitoring. Highlights how AI is transforming the ways oceans are studied and understood.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs)Details about AI-driven vehicles used for ocean exploration. Discusses how these advanced machines can autonomously navigate, collect data, and perform tasks underwater, enhancing research capabilities and safety in marine environments.
Data Analysis and Predictive ModelingExplains AI’s role in processing massive oceanic data, making real-time monitoring and predictive modeling more efficient. Emphasizes how AI aids in forecasting oceanic phenomena and analyzing complex environmental data for better understanding and decision-making.
Conservation and Climate ChangeFocuses on how AI contributes to marine conservation efforts and climate change research. Highlights AI’s application in biodiversity monitoring, ecosystem health assessment, and understanding climate impacts on marine environments.
Challenges of AI in OceanographyOutlines various challenges faced in implementing AI in oceanography, including data quality, environmental impact, ethical considerations, technological limitations, and economic constraints. Discusses the need for balancing technological potential with practical and ethical concerns.
Future of AI in OceanographyEnvisions the potential advancements and applications of AI in oceanography in the future. Predicts enhanced autonomous systems, improved data analysis, contributions to conservation and climate change research, sustainable resource management, and deeper exploration of the ocean.


What is AI’s role in oceanography?

AI in oceanography enhances data analysis, autonomous exploration, and environmental monitoring, transforming marine research methods.

How do AI-driven AUVs benefit ocean research?

AI-driven Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) enable more efficient, accurate, and safer exploration and data collection in the ocean.

Can AI predict oceanic changes?

Yes, AI’s predictive modeling capabilities help forecast oceanic phenomena like climate effects and marine ecosystem dynamics.

How does AI aid in marine conservation?

AI assists in monitoring biodiversity, assessing ecosystem health, and understanding the impacts of climate change on marine environments.

What challenges does AI face in oceanography?

Challenges include data quality, environmental impact, ethical considerations, technological limitations, and economic constraints.

What future advancements are expected for AI in oceans?

Future advancements include smarter AUVs, enhanced data analysis, improved conservation efforts, and deeper ocean exploration.

How does AI impact sustainable fisheries?

AI aids in sustainable fisheries by monitoring fish stocks and predicting migration patterns, helping to prevent overfishing.

Can AI help with climate change research in oceans?

Yes, AI significantly contributes to understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change on oceanic systems.

Are there ethical concerns with using AI in oceans?

Yes, ethical concerns include data privacy, the ecological footprint of technologies, and accountability in autonomous operations.

How does AI improve understanding of ocean biodiversity?

AI enhances the tracking and analysis of marine species, leading to better understanding and preservation of ocean biodiversity.

Share This Post
Privacy and security in the digital age

Privacy and Security: 6 Major Concerns

Explore the top privacy and security concerns in the digital age, and learn how individuals, organizations, and governments can address these challenges together.

Do You Want To Boost Your Business?