Big Ocean, Big Data

Kakani Katija, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Ben Woodward, CVIsion AI

Katy Croff Bell, MIT Media Lab

Alexis Hope, MIT Media Lab

Establishing FathomNet, a new baseline data set optimized to accelerate development of modern, automated analysis of underwater visual data.

More ocean data have been collected in the last two years than in all previous years combined, and we are on a path to continue to break that record. More than ever, we need to establish a solid foundation for processing this ceaseless stream of data. This is especially true for visual data, where ocean-going platforms are beginning to integrate multi-camera feeds for observation and navigation. Techniques to efficiently process and utilize visual data sets with machine learning exist and continue to be transformative, but have had limited success in the ocean world due to: lack of data set standardization; sparse annotation tools for the wider oceanographic community; and insufficient formatting of existing, expertly curated imagery for use by data scientists.

Building on successes of the machine learning community, we are developing a public platform that makes use of existing (and future) expertly curated data. Our efforts will establish a new baseline dataset, optimized to directly accelerate development of modern, intelligent, automated analysis of underwater visual data. This effort will ultimately enable scientists, explorers, policymakers, storytellers, and the public, to know what’s in the ocean and where it is for effective and responsible marine stewardship.

Boston Intertidal

Avery Normandin, MIT Media Lab

Devora Najjar, MIT Media Lab

Immersing neurodiverse Boston-area youth in urban coastal ecosystems to learn about the ecology of rocky and intertidal systems.

Field Exploration in Boston's Intertidal Zone was a two-day, hands-on educational workshop for neurodiverse youth in the Greater Boston area, in which participants used the city of Boston as a classroom, laboratory, and creative playground. Together, scientists, engineers, and artists took to the field as explorers in order to answer questions related to ecology, biology, chemistry, art, and more.

"Citizen science" (or Open Science) movements have generated robust momentum for allowing communities to delineate the natural world—or speculate on its future—in hands-on and creative ways. As part of a larger effort to cultivate a future generation of environmentally engaged and justice-focused citizen scientists—and in line with the outreach efforts of the Media Lab's Open Ocean Initiative—we developed Field Experimentation in Boston's Intertidal Zone: a two-day pilot workshop for Boston-area neurodivergent (e.g., autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic, ADD, ADHD) youth, in which participants dove head first into the ecology of rocky and intertidal systems, developed a hypotheses surrounding these bodies, and subsequently executed field investigations to test hypotheses.

We envision that use of easy-to-access, public sites for the pilot workshop will further democratize the potential to recapitulate similar endeavors in ecological exploration and immersive learning.

Connected Coral

Emily Salvador, MIT Media Lab

Nina Lutz, MIT Media Lab

Creating a tangible, at-scale experience telling the story of coral reef bleaching and climate change that can help individuals empathize with the ocean.

Connected Coral integrates physical and digital elements in a visualization of the environmental impacts on reefs. This complex projection mapping uses multiple projectors, angled mirrors, and a motion sensor to create an interactive digital skin on a complex three-dimensional surface.

To integrate the projected content with the physical design, the students fabricated the physical coral model based on photogrammetry scans of real coral, warped and blended the projected areas, and factored in hardware specifications. These modifications minimize visual distortion on the uneven surface and allow for an uninhibited interactive experience.

This project was created through the Open Ocean Initiative and will be on display at the MIT Museum through Spring 2019.

Inviting visitors on a journey into the dynamic world of microbes through an immersive, multisensory experience around cutting-edge scientific discoveries.

Microbes are the foundation upon which life on Earth depends: they set the boundaries of habitability for all plants and animals and create half of the oxygen we breathe. Ocean-dwelling microbes regulate the global climate and could hold the secrets to the origin of life. Put simply, we wouldn’t be here without microbes, yet most people don't realize how ubiquitous and important they are.

The Micronauts project overcomes this concerning knowledge gap by building an emotional bridge. Microscopic creatures are, by definition, typically hidden from view, and the challenge of seeing them and perceiving their importance prevents emotional involvement and investment. Through an immersive, multisensory experience built around cutting-edge scientific discoveries, visitors—“Micronauts”—will venture into the dynamic world of ocean microbes. Aerial videography will provide regional context of the field site—Sippewissett salt marsh on Cape Cod—and a responsive, large floor projection will illuminate the frantic business of the microorganisms, as they go about their daily business of finding food, reproducing, transforming chemicals, and breathing metals.

The Micronaut journey is the first production of its kind, enabling a better understanding of the ocean through its microbial foundation and connect visitors with that process of discovery in an innovative way, revealing a vibrant world they never knew existed.


Jeffrey Marlow, Harvard University

Ben Bray, MIT Sea Grant

Keith Ellenbogen, MIT Sea Grant

Raquel Fornasaro

Caroline Rozendo, MIT Media Lab

Craig McClain, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Empowering developing countries to explore their own deep-sea backyards using low-cost technology, while building lasting capacity.

70% of nations have deep-sea environments within their Exclusive Economic Zones, yet only 16% are able to explore them. This is especially true for less economically developed communities. The dearth of technological capability and knowledge leads to a lack of exploration, inappropriate or inadequate management decisions, and unaware populations. Our goal is to empower communities to explore their own deep-sea backyards, while building lasting local capacity.

Our pilot project takes place in two small island developing states—the Republic of Kiribati, and Trinidad & Tobago. It utilizes Deep-Sea Drop Cameras developed by National Geographic’s Exploration Technology Lab, OpenROV’s Trident Remotely Operated Vehicles, and a custom-built ReelCam. All technologies collect compelling imagery, but require minimal resources and expertise. In our pilot study during summer 2018, our team members traveled to each country to train a group of scientists, students, and communicators in the use of these technologies, which are to be left in-country for further exploration. Next steps include training in data analysis and creation of outreach materials for sharing discoveries and knowledge with the local communities.

My Deep Sea, My Backyard

Randi Rotjan, Boston University

Diva Amon, Natural History Museum, London

Alan Turchik, National Geographic Society

Brian Kennedy, Boston University

Alexis Hope, MIT Media Lab

Brennan Phillips, University of Rhode Island

Katy Croff Bell, MIT Media Lab

Integrating modern data and indigenous knowledge as a new platform for community-led monitoring of marine microbial ecosystems in New Zealand.

Māori have a long and deep connection to their island and ocean ecosystem. The Māori concepts of Rahui and Mātaitai reserves focus on traditional methods of ocean protection that long predate marine protected areas. Ocean Cultures hopes to support the younger generation of islanders to understand and monitor their own ocean surroundings at a time when it is critical.

We hope to do this through a dual set of tools, monitoring through science as well as culture. Monitoring through science will consist of educational hands-on workshops teaching participants fundamental concepts within marine ecology, which governs the health, biodiversity, and innumerable processes that occur on our planet. Additional workshops on low cost sensors and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) will be explored as well. To monitor through culture, we hope to collaborate with Māori kaumātua to teach participants traditional and cultural knowledge about their ocean ecosystems and how best to preserve that though generations.

Ocean Cultures

Devora Najjar, MIT Media Lab

Avery Normandin, MIT Media Lab

Project Prometheus

Allan Adams, MIT Future Oceans Lab

Jake Bernstein, MIT

Corey Jaskolski, National Geographic Explorer

Kenny Broad, National Geographic Explorer

Developing and deploying a low-cost, high-resolution underwater 3D camera system to quickly and beautifully map caves, coral reefs, and sunken cities.

Most of the underwater world remains far off the map. For many of the most exciting exploration challenges–from Maya cenotes to urban aquifers to archaeological treasures to coral reefs–map-making remains largely pre-industrial and time consuming. The difficulty and expense of mapping these spaces is a major barrier to storytelling for science, conservation, and stewardship. While many tools exist for open-ocean bathymetry (such as multibeam sonars), cost-effective diver-deployable tools for rapidly mapping complex and enclosed spaces are sorely lacking. Our goal is to create diver-deployable tools that are orders of magnitude faster, more precise, and less expensive than current practice–to enable mapping and imaging of these underwater resources at a societal scale.

To this end, we are developing low-cost, high-resolution, diver-deployable underwater optical 3D scanning and navigation systems with which to quickly, safely, and beautifully map caves, aquifers, coral reefs, sunken cities, and other large-scale underwater spaces. To satisfy scientific and storytelling needs, these devices must be easy to use, have fine spatial resolution, map at swimming speed, produce data in industry-standard formats, and be completely open source at both hardware and software levels.

Generating a living, glowing display built of bioluminescent plankton stimulated by a programmable pattern of pressure waves in the water.

Throughout the ages bioluminescence has inspired myths. Long ago, sailors in the Indian Ocean encountered massive bioluminescent blooms as they sailed through the water, lighting the wakes of their ships like the spokes of a wheel carrying them to their destination in a chariot of wind and water. They called this phenomenon “The Wheels of Poseidon”. Our goal is to harness the beauty of bioluminescence to create a new medium for artistic expression. We will generate a living, programmable bioluminescent display, with pixels and voxels built of bioluminescent plankton (Pyrosystis fuciformis) floating freely in the water column and stimulated to glow by a programmable pattern of pressure waves (acoustic waves) in the water.

Wheels of Poseidon

Dan Oran, MIT Media Lab

Rachel Smith, MIT Media Lab