Fifteen years ago, the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) made history as the world’s first large-scale, interactive, real-time portal into the ocean. On 8 February 2006, a large underwater telecommunications power bar—known as a node—was lowered to the bottom of Saanich Inlet’s coastal fjord off Vancouver Island, enabling a flow of continuous, real-time data to the surface for science, society and industry.
This feat of engineering marked the dawn of the Internet-connected ocean, enabling us to advance our planet’s understanding of the ocean—or ocean intelligence—at a critical time. The free, open data that began to flow through the fibre optic cable fifteen years ago has improved our ability to monitor and understand our changing ocean, everything from earthquakes and tsunamis to deep sea biodiversity, whales, hydrothermal vents and the impact of climate change, including sea ice in the Arctic.
ONC’s origins: listening to the heartbeat of the planet
This pioneering approach to ocean science began in the late 1990’s, when scientists began dreaming about a new way of doing science that was no longer limited by weather and ship-time. They imagined a permanent presence in the ocean by wiring the entire Juan de Fuca tectonic plate with sensors to allow a continuous flow of ocean data via the Internet. “We’re going to listen to the heartbeat of the planet,” commented University of Washington marine geologist John Delaney, one of the original visionaries along with University of Victoria marine biologist Verena Tunnicliffe and geologist Chris Barnes.
This big science megaproject began to take shape in 2000, when a partnership between United States and Canadian institutions was established. Led by the University of Washington in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the University of Victoria, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and CalTech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. ONC evolved out of this international collaboration with seed funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, while in the United States, the Ocean Observatories Initiative was funded by the US National Science Foundation.
“We want to get everyone into the ocean and break down the barriers to a world that most people can’t see,” commented Verena Tunnicliffe, the driving force behind the Canadian initiative launch in 2006. “If we’re going to make wise decisions as stewards of the ocean, then we all have to see it and care what happens to it.”
Fast forward 15 years; ONC is now operating over 9,000 deep sea, coastal and land-based sensors on all three of Canada’s coasts, 24/7/365. Every day, 280 gigabytes of data are added to a rich and diverse 1,000 terabyte archive, all freely available on ONC’s Oceans 2.0 data portal. This FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) open data equips over 19,000 users around the world with ocean intelligence to #knowtheocean, from researchers and coastal communities to policy makers and international governments.
“ONC has delivered on—and gone beyond—the vision set out by mavericks Barnes, Delaney and Tunnicliffe,” comments ONC’s President and CEO Kate Moran, who has been at the organization’s helm since 2012. “The ocean intelligence we deliver advances scientific discovery, ocean literacy, social justice and sustainable commercial benefit, all in alignment with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.”
An ocean of thanks to all our funders, partners, scientists, data users and staff who have helped us #knowtheocean over the last decade and a half. We couldn’t have done it without you.
2021 and beyond
Given the impacts of climate change—the most profound and impactful issue of our time—understanding our changing ocean and coastline has never been more important. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to generate the knowledge, data, science infrastructure and partnerships needed to inform policies to protect and sustain healthy oceans. Over the next decade, ONC will launch world-leading, next-generation physical and digital infrastructure, provide data services and foster partnerships for a bright ocean future and a resilient planet.
Celebrate our 15th anniversary year with us!
Throughout 2021, we will be celebrating our 15th anniversary with events, talks, stories and activities highlighting fifteen years of ocean observing, featuring the innovative science, data and collaborations made possible by listening to the heartbeat of the planet. Download our 15th anniversary 15-month calendar.
To kick things off on 8 February, join us on social media as we launch 15 years in 15 weeks—#ONC15—featuring year-by-year highlights of ocean intelligence for science, society and industry.