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2020 & Beyond

The Blue Economy has little to be “blue” about as we usher in a new decade. Back in 2010, things were less buoyant as the so-called Great Recession threatened to drag us under. For many, the ramifications were severe—for some catastrophic—but ten years on and there is cause for optimism. The next decade promises to be transformative for the offshore and ocean industries, so what can we expect from 2020 and beyond? Here’s our take.

The Next Wave of Data

Oceans are notoriously difficult environments to study. It’s only within the last 50 years that technology has enabled any systematic and scientific advances in our understanding of what lies beneath. Subsequently, our demand for secure, real-time data has compelled blue tech manufacturers to respond with ever-smarter products, powered by increasingly efficient, integrated and perceptive components. This is set to continue over the coming decade as we look to extend the reach and accuracy of the highly technical systems used to harvest the next wave of data.
Consequently, we are likely to see increasing pressure on data strategy over the coming years, as industry, government, and academic bodies look to harness the potential of all this Big “Blue” Data. A robust data strategy—the management and interpretation of torrents of data as a means of actioning innovation, sustainability and reliable decision making—will prove critical to our ongoing digital transformation and, in particular, the advancement of AI and machine learning.
We learned a great deal about autonomy and automation last decade, not to mention its fallacies (self-driving cars defying their GPS commandments and the like), and the coming decade is likely to bring more hard lessons as companies realize the costs associated with mismanaging data. As far as the offshore industries are concerned, prepping data to help steer our future exploration will become a top priority, as will the need for data fluency. All this will have a weighty impact on data strategy. In short, the bigger the data, the bigger the budget.
The adoption of AI in this quest might feel like a natural step towards data-driven management, but it will come with inherent security risks. As companies become more data-reliant, new technologies—such as the IoT, real-time analytics, machine learning, smart sensors, and embedded systems—will expose enterprises to a wider field of external attack; AI, as the great enabler, will essentially empower foreign agents to bypass most security controls. Hackers will increasingly understand the value of holding data for ransom, making the coming decade urgently important for data security systems and the measures used to nullify the threat of such cyberattacks.

The New Age of Autonomous Systems

The risk-reward of mining big data is unlikely to deter us from embracing new technologies; in fact, making sense of the vast swathes of data will compel us. AI and automation, and how they gear the systems we deploy, will play central roles in refining how we work at sea. Autonomous assets are nothing new to military and commercial operators but transitioning to a decade of accelerated acceptance, in which AI can prosper exponentially, may prove challenging for some of the more traditional sectors, such as the maritime industry.

Once implemented, though, the gains of autonomy at sea are clear: efficiency, safety and extended capability. Much in the way that modern flight transformed the world in terms of travel and logistics, AI-driven systems will hold the key to productivity in a new era. Ongoing investment will be needed and there will be setbacks as disruptive technologies emerge, but the next ten years will propel us into a new realm.

The implications for the defense markets are perhaps the most profound; Military might will no longer be a show of armed assets, but rather the computing clout than powers them. Advances in unmanned systems will present a key strategic advantage in mission deployment, ultimately removing some of the limiting (human) aspects of modern warfare, such as stress, fear, exhaustion, etc. However, endurance will continue to be a limitation so we can expect to see greater R&D investment in battery technology. With human participation removed from some of the most extreme situations (e.g. environmental hazards, dangerous weather) and volatile conditions (e.g. enemy forces, IEDs), resources can be appropriated more effectively.
There is another distinct upside to autonomy at sea. As the climate change debate rages, the ability to work at sea more efficiently has profound implications on our future carbon footprint. Removing operators from vessels will also have an ongoing impact on how we approach the design of our marine assets in 2020 and beyond. Hulls, for example, will be designed to optimize unmanned performance (i.e. an emphasis on minimalizing drag as opposed to housing operators and their supplies), ultimately reducing fuel consumption and hence greenhouse emissions.

Beyond traditional marine ops, the next decade will also usher in a new fleet of autonomous vehicles designed to clarify our understanding of how best to operate offshore. Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs) and Underwater Unmanned Vehicles (UUVs) will take us further and deeper than ever before.

Spurred on by commercial operators and governmental agencies, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations will be increasingly likely to acquire and deploy such assets as economies of scale begin to take afoot. Projects like Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project—a pledge to have 100% of the world’s seafloor mapped by 2030—and the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) will crown a decade of unchartered discovery, understanding and regulation. It’s often said that we know more about the moon than our ocean floors, but that will not be the case by 2030.

Mining the Deep

Unquestionably the advent of Ocean Mining (or Deep-sea Mining), the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the ocean seabed, will contribute to our understanding of a new frontier in 2020 and beyond. Increased interest in the so-called rare-earth metals found in these deposits—including copper, nickel, manganese, zinc, lithium, and cobalt—is driven in part by an insatiable demand for smartphones and green technology, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electronic storage batteries.

There are three categories of seabed minerals of particular interest: polymetallic nodules, seabed massive sulphides, and cobalt-rich crusts. The habitats that play host to these minerals are acutely different, and so the technology required to harvest them are equally distinct and, therefore, the decade ahead will be characterized by some innovative but challenging deep-sea engineering.
Using the manipulator arm on the ROV Isis to collect a ferromanganese crust sample on Tropic Seamount.
The industry has been slow to develop due to the technical constraints of operating at depths of up to 5,000 m, as well as the limited scientific knowledge about seafloor ecosystems and the potential harm that mining could have on marine biodiversity, but we are likely to see progress, perhaps even successful commercial extraction, in the coming years. But much of this hinges on the jurisdiction of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which to date has issued 30 exploration contracts (not to be confused with exploitation contracts). Advances in ROV technology, in partnership with thorough scientific inquiry, will prove pivotal to the commercial viability of ocean mining, but published reports suggest that the marine mining market could be worth over $10 bn by 2030.

As we wrangle with the question of how to build a more sustainable future, ocean mining may be one of the more viable solutions of the coming decade.
Fifty Years of
Ocean Science
Find out how CSA can help you manage the environmental impact of your marine activities as we embark on the next 50 Years of Ocean Science.

The Winds of Change Come to Offshore Energy

The decade ahead will pose some probing questions for the offshore energy sector and its outlook as pressures mount to readdress our reliance of fossil fuels.

The last decade was a turbulent one for the oil markets, with prices peaking at US $125 a barrel in 2012, before plummeting to a low of US $30 in January 2016. So, what can we expect from 2020 onwards? Well, it is just as hard to predict now as it was in 2010, in the wake of the economic downturn of 2008 that triggered a collapse in global GDP and a disastrous 1.6% drop in oil consumption by in 2009. Uncertainty was further compounded by the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to sustained environmental scrutiny and speculation.

This decade starts in a similarly unpredictable fashion amid global warming concerns and a need to implement carbon-capture technologies or even stage a drastic intervention to cull our growing demand and consumption.
This makes predicting oil prices almost impossible in the coming years, let alone provide a decade-long forecast. The EIA’s (the US Energy Information Administration) short-term energy outlook has spot prices for Brent Crude averaging at $61/b in 2020, down from 2019 due to rising global oil inventories. Despite this downward trend from $71/b in 2018, crude will remain the beating drum of the global economy in 2020 and throughout the next decade.

However, further diversification by the majors into renewable energy is inevitable due to ongoing price factoring of regulation and environmental damage to carbon-based extraction. Carbon-free solutions, like solar, wind and nuclear, will be needed to meet the demands of a growing global population.
The Year Ahead
Offshore Source will be taking a deeper look at these and other important developments throughout 2020. Our bi-monthly overview will seek to shed a light on the issues shaping the offshore industries and is available free of charge to our subscribers. Subscribe to Offshore Source and get a perspective that takes you beyond the news.
CSA opened its doors in 1970 with a mission to advance ocean science. For 50 years, from coastal waters to the deep sea, we’ve proudly partnered with industrial, academic and government organizations to design and implement scientifically robust and progressive environmental programs, all in accordance with the strictest quality assurance and HSSE requirements.

But we’re just getting started. Every day of each project pushes us to reach greater depths, discover new frontiers, and develop ever-innovative solutions to sharpen our subject matter expertise and facilitate our clients’ understanding of what lies beneath. Find out how CSA can help you manage the environmental impact of your marine activities as we embark on the next 50 Years of Ocean Science.
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