AWS Public Sector Blog

How the cloud is helping us better understand and manage the oceans


World Ocean Day recognizes the crucial role that the oceans play in our lives. Oceans produce at least 50 percent of the planet’s oxygen, absorb about 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans—buffering the impacts of global warming—and are home to most of earth’s biodiversity. In addition, the oceans are key to our economy, being the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world, and the United Nations estimates that 40 million people will be employed in ocean-based industries by 2030.

To protect and preserve the oceans, we need to extensively understand its systems, and data is at the core of that process. The Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI) is committed to enabling better access to the foundational data that can help researchers, businesses, and policy makers better monitor and manage the ocean’s valuable resources.

Democratizing access to ocean data on AWS

The world’s waters are largely unknown, with vast areas still unmapped. Only 46 percent of US ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters have been mapped to modern standards. Filling these data gaps is vital to human and marine health, safe navigation, and national security. In addition to generating new data, making existing oceanographic data and information more accessible to users can enhance the decision-making process, allowing mariners to improve safety at sea, optimize routes, and save fuel.

Through a collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Big Data Program (BDP), ASDI is making available petabytes of ocean-related data on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help map, monitor, and manage ocean resources and activities. The collaboration leverages the AWS Open Data Sponsorship program to host foundational data on AWS, covering the storage and egress costs for qualifying datasets and allowing data providers to retain complete control and ownership of their data hosted on AWS. NOAA established BDP to provide public access to NOAA’s open data and foster discoverability and usability.

NOAA ocean data currently hosted on AWS through this program includes the Crowdsourced Bathymetry and the NOAA National Bathymetric Source Data. These datasets support the creation of next-generation nautical charts and efforts to advance ocean-related science, and back industry and regulatory needs. Another dataset hosted on AWS is the NOAA World Ocean Database (WOD), the largest uniformly formatted and quality-controlled historical subsurface ocean profile database. The dataset provides global aggregation of ocean variables including temperature, salinity, oxygen, nutrients, and more. This dataset allows for the study and understanding of the changing physical and chemical state of the ocean.

NOAA BDP and ASDI also host ocean forecast data as guidance information to help mariners safely navigate their local waters. Operational nowcast (analyses of near present conditions) and forecast guidance (out to 48 hours) are available on AWS, providing access to parameters such as water levels, water temperature, salinity, and currents. For example, the NOAA Global Extratropical Surge and Tide Operational Forecast System (Global ESTOFS) offers users nowcasts and forecasts of water level conditions for the entire globe.

In addition to working with government agencies, ASDI also works with academia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and private sector groups to make ocean-related data resources more accessible. Through the Farallon Institute, the Multi-Scale Ultra High Resolution (MUR) Sea Surface Temperature (SST) dataset is now accessible to anyone on AWS. This is a global, gap-free, gridded, daily, one kilometer sea surface temperature (SST) dataset created by merging several satellite derived sea surface temperature measurements. SST is an indicator of warming trends and critical to studying climate change.

Enabling better, faster, and cheaper solutions

Hosting these foundational large datasets on AWS means scientists can bring their code to the data, which removes many of the barriers that prevent quick exploration of new ideas and promotes collaboration. ”This opens the door to additional users creating a more diverse and inclusive scientific community” said Dr. Chelle Gentemann, senior scientist at Farallon Institute, “…and helps us address an additional challenge: science’s reproducibility problem. When programs like ASDI stage sustainability-related foundational datasets on the cloud and make it available at no cost, it makes it easier for researchers to create cloud-based scientific analysis and make the analysis code available adjacent to the data. This enables anyone to test the reproducibility of science results, which is important for transparency reasons and it allows scientists to build on each other’s results and move the field forward.”

The AWS Cloud is also enabling better estimates of hurricane wind speeds allowing for improved decisions around evacuations and general hurricane response planning, saving both lives and property. Hurricane wind speed estimates are currently made using the manual Dvorak technique. The National Hurricane Center releases them every three to six hours. Artificial intelligence (AI) experts with the IMPACT team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Development Seed created the Deep Learning-Based Hurricane Intensity Estimator (on AWS) to automate this process and provide wind speed estimates with minute level cadence.

The private sector is also benefiting from open data and cloud technology to improve their services. nauricAI uses Internet of Things (IoT) devices deployed on vessels to track motion information, which when combined with ship location and weather data (available on AWS) provides customers with information on how wind and waves affect on-board navigation. Having the large weather and ocean data co-located in the cloud improves the efficiency of the underlying workload. These solutions enable prediction and optimization of navigation, and ultimately helps increase route efficiency, reduce emissions, and reduce environmental impacts.

Innovating for ocean protection and preservation

“Ninety-five percent of the ocean remains unexplored, and the lack of data for those areas is detrimental to ocean conservation efforts,” said Fernanda Ubatuba, president and chief operating officer (COO) at OCEARCH. Her organization’s mission is to uncover the history and behavior of sharks as key indicators of ocean health. By using AWS, OCEARCH is enabling large teams of collaborating scientists and experienced fishermen to collect critical data on shark movements and make these findings available to the public. The collaborative environment enabled by AWS provides customers access to previously hard to obtain data to help determine overall ocean health, inform fisheries management for sustainability, and support public safety efforts.

Groups like Saildrone are leveraging the AWS Cloud to better map the oceans. Saildrone builds and operates a fleet of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) designed to collect high-resolution oceanographic and atmospheric data in remote oceans. Known as saildrones, each vehicle can stay at sea for up to 12 months, transmitting real-time data via satellite. The data collected is used to inform climate models and extreme weather prediction, maritime domain awareness, maps and charts, and sustainable management of resources.

Learn more about ASDI and listen to our recent Fix This podcast episode.

ASDI acknowledges contributions from the NOAA Big Data Program’s Adrienne Simonson, Patrick Keown, Jena Kent and Jenny Dissen. Learn more about BDP here.

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Ana Pinheiro Privette

Ana Pinheiro Privette

Dr. Ana Pinheiro Privette is a senior program manager with Amazon's sustainability group and leads the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI). ASDI seeks to leverage Amazon’s scale, technology, and infrastructure to help create more global innovation for sustainability. Ana was trained as an environmental engineer and as an earth scientist at the New University of Lisbon (Portugal) and at MIT. She spent most of her career as a research scientist at NASA and NOAA. Later, Ana worked on the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) focusing on bringing more transparency and traceability of the data sources supporting this climate report, and led projects for the White House climate portfolio, including the Obama Climate Data Initiative (CDI) and the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP).

Zac Flamig

Zac Flamig

Zac Flamig is a tech business development manager for open data at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Zac is an Earth scientist with an interest in using remote sensing and in situ measurements to make the world a better place. His particular focus area so far has been floods; he developed a hydrologic modeling framework to forecast flooding that is used by the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) and NASA.