Terradepth plans to break open marine data silos and capture seafloor info at new depths with AUVs.
When The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 project announced plans this year to leverage Terradepth’s Absolute Ocean cloud-based portal as the ocean data management platform for its crowd-sourced Seabed Trusted Node programme, the message to the marine conservation community was clear – The days of siloed ocean databases are gone. The community must embrace collaborative and accessible information management technology so it can scale to global levels.
“Comprehensive study of the ocean ecosystem, especially the seafloor, has traditionally been thwarted by two obstacles - the cost of data acquisition and resulting lack of data sharing,” said Jason Schwartz, Vice President of Corporate Development for Terradepth of Austin, Texas.
Schwartz pointed to the oft-cited statistic that we know more about the surface of our Moon than about the subsurface of our oceans.
"Depending on who you ask, it’s been estimated that only between 10 and 20 % of the ocean depths have been mapped to today's modern standards or at a high enough resolution to provide value," said Schwartz.
"But what’s more frustrating is that much of the bathymetric mapping data that has been collected
languishes in inaccessible proprietary databases and unsearchable forgotten hard drives.
Terradepth is taking direct aim at both the data sharing and data scarcity issues with the development of its Absolute Ocean (AO) platform.
Firstly, AO serves as a geospatial data management system where data sets can be stored, visualised, queried, and shared by users with little or no scientific backgrounds.
Secondly, the platform is a marketplace where geospatial data sets can be browsed, purchased, and downloaded – often as a secondary use to their original purpose.
But Terradepth isn’t stopping there. The company is using the AO platform as the showcase and delivery mechanism for an aggressive data collection program of its own.
Terradepth has taken a leadership role in deploying Autonomous Underwater Vehicles to map the seafloor for a variety of commercial uses and is developing a new class of uncrewed vehicles to explore sea depths once thought unfathomable.
AO made its soft debut in beta form to great interest among the international ocean technology community at Oceanology International in London this past spring, and was featured by partner TCarta at the 2022 GEOINT Symposium earlier this year.
Its official commercial rollout comes this October at the Oceans Conference and Exposition in Hampton Roads, Va.
Enhancing Marine Operation Efficiencies
“Our objective in building AO was to facilitate analysis and collaboration through intuitive exploration while increasing operational efficiency and the quality control process,” said Evan Martzial, Terradepth Vice President of Business Development.
“For many marine survey organisations, this will be the first time all their data is accessible in one place.
"Energy, environmental, engineering, construction, and telecommunications organisations are notorious for acquiring expensive seafloor data, using it once, and never leveraging it again, explained Martzial. AO will ensure data is never lost, and will provide on-demand ocean data access to enterprise business units, departments or customers, regardless of geography."
Terradepth developed AO on top of a powerful geospatial engine which gives the platform much of the same functionality as a GIS. Users can upload their data into the secure system in popular geospatial formats. The data can then be easily searched by geographic coordinates, acquisition date, data type, or other query parameters.
Subscribing organisations can set permissions to allow access for all or some files across their enterprise and to partners in any location. The Seabed 2030 Trusted Node project, for example, will leverage these capabilities to scale its ambitious ocean mapping project to a global level.
A collaboration of the Nippon Foundation in Japan and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), Seabed 2030 is providing water depth loggers to ocean-going vessels to capture bathymetric points during their travels. Stored in AO, the data will be freely available to educators, researchers, and marine enthusiasts everywhere.
"Providing a user-friendly, immersive interface for the visualisation of vast high-resolution geospatial datasets enables users to make better and faster maritime decisions," said Martzial.
Terradepth has seeded AO with thousands of open-source and publicly available data sets. These currently include side-scan sonar, synthetic aperture sonar, magnetometer grids, multibeam bathymetry, LiDAR, satellite-derived bathymetry, and satellite imagery. Subscribers can access these files along with their own proprietary data sets to perform advanced visualization and geospatial analysis.
Just as they would in a terrestrial GIS, users can view marine data sets in 2D and 3D from a variety of perspectives, scales, and viewing angles. Linear distances and areas of subsurface features can be measured.
Data sets can be viewed by themselves or overlaid on each other for analysis. A profile tool allows users to draw a line across a data stack in plan view to see a terrain cross section of the information. The profile can include both terrestrial imagery and subsurface data to show complex relationships between the on- and offshore coastal ecosystems.
Because the system is browser based, it serves as an ideal collaboration platform, especially in QA/QC applications. Two geophysicists on different sides of the globe, for example, can view a magnetometer grid simultaneously online in AO.
They can rotate the data set and annotate it as they debate whether an anomaly is a seafloor feature or merely a sensor artifact. The advantage is they can examine the exact same data layers from the same perspective at precisely the same moment.
Terradepth is also developing geospatial analytics for use in AO. A valuable tool currently in the works is AI-based Automatic Object Recognition that will allow users to automatically detect and identify objects of interest on the ocean floor. More analysis functions will be launched in the coming months.
The Austin firm expects the platform’s ease of use and e-commerce functions will incentivise organizations, especially in energy and government sectors, to archive their data after it has been utilized and then make it available for sale as secondary revenue streams.
Additionally, AO can serve as a primary online marketplace for new data sales. Both situations will dramatically expand the seafloor information that is accessible for commercial and casual applications.
One of the first geospatial firms to partner with Terradepth for online data sales is TCarta Marine of Denver, a leader in satellite derived bathymetry (SDB). The firm extracts highly accurate bathymetric measurements and seafloor classification maps from multispectral satellite imagery.
While the firm performs numerous custom SDB projects for energy, defence, and government clients worldwide each year, it also has an extensive offering of off-the shelf SDB products. Making them available on the easy-to-query AO marketplace significantly streamlines the buying process, especially for small-area or one-off purchases.
Expanding the Seafloor Survey Database
While the AO platform fosters geospatial data archiving, accessibility and sharing. Terradepth is also addressing scaled ocean data acquisition. It believes Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are among the keys to solving this problem. The company has purchased multiple off-the shelf AUVs and begun an aggressive campaign to capture ocean bottom data as a commercial service.
“AO is part of our service,” said Terradepth’s Schwartz. “We can deliver seafloor surveys to clients through the platform and also manage the files there, so they aren’t lost or corrupted. The client can access them whenever they need to and share them with other non-technical stakeholders.”
The response to the company’s commercial services has been enthusiastic. Much of the work has involved traditional geophysical surveys for energy companies involved in oil and gas exploration, but the offshore wind and telecommunications industry are rapidly growing customer bases as well.
“Before a wind turbine can be installed on the seafloor or a telecommunications cable run across the ocean bottom, the sites have to be mapped at high resolution to detect hazards and other features,” said Schwartz. “In some parts of the world, we even search for unexploded ordnance.” Terradepth typically equips the AUVs with multibeam, side scan, sub-bottom profilers and magnetometers along with high accuracy location/navigation devices to georeference the collected data.
With the increasing demand for energy, offshore exploration and renewable infrastructure siting are heading into deeper waters where existing AUVs offer limited operating capabilities. The vehicles currently deployed by Terradepth can capture data for about a day ranging anywhere from 1 to 1000 meters.
The Texas firm is also developing a more capable AUV which has already undergone test operations in Austin’s Lake Travis, innovating around autonomous energy recharge that will enable mission endurance of between 15 and 30 days, down to depths of 6,000m.
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