Dr. Kate Moran
President & CEO, Ocean Networks Canada
Dr. Kate Moran, President & CEO, Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), has spent her entire career focused on the oceans. To call her an expert on issues like climate change or the impact of a carbon-based economy on the world’s seas would be an understatement. While recognizing that there is no silver bullet in moving from fossil fuels toward alternative energies and negative emission technologies, Dr. Moran is an optimist. “We have a choice,” she says, quoting a common saying in the science community: “Mitigate, adapt, or suffer.” Lucky for us, the research being done under Dr. Moran’s direction is providing a foundation for a path forward to a more sustainable shipping industry.
BCSN: Kate, could you provide some background on your career and the skills and strengths you’ve developed that make you successful in your current role?
KM: I’m trained as an ocean engineer but my whole career has been within the realm of science and engineering. I initially started out with the Government of Canada after my Master’s degree and worked mainly to assess risks related to offshore oil & gas production in the Arctic/Beaufort Sea and Atlantic.
I completed my PhD while working for the government and then started work on the Ocean Drilling Program — an international collaborative initiative to conduct basic research into the history of the ocean basins and the overall nature of the crust beneath the ocean floor using the drill ship JOIDES Resolution. That’s where I really started applying engineering to science. I ultimately became the Director of the program and that provided me with the experience to manage large programs, especially from a science perspective and the delivery of results.
Following that, I entered the academia world and became a faculty member in Engineering and Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. While there, I co-led the first scientific drilling expedition to the central Arctic Ocean as well as an expedition that followed up on the 2004 earthquake/tsunami in the Indian Ocean to understand why the waves were so much bigger than forecasted.
Before coming to the University of Victoria, I was involved in policy work for President Obama related to the Deepwater Horizon event. I learned a great deal about industry’s good and bad sides — for example, while some decisions are shareholder driven, the technology deployed by BP was pretty remarkable.
In 2011, I was asked to interview for the Director position for NEPTUNE Canada, one of the two observatories that was merged into Ocean Networks Canada (the other was VENUS). I had never focused on ocean observations before but nonetheless was intrigued by the position. I was brought in to merge the two under ONC which has worked out really well.
BCSN: That’s a good segue to ask about the work of ONC.
KM: ONC, a University of Victoria initiative, monitors the west and east coasts of Canada and the Arctic to continuously deliver data in real time for scientific research that helps communities, governments and industry make informed decisions about our future. Using cabled observatories, remote control systems and interactive sensors as well as big data management, ONC enables evidence-based decision-making on ocean management, disaster mitigation and environmental protection.
The 800-kilometre NEPTUNE observ-
atory and the nearly 50-kilometre VENUS coastal observatory — which together make up ONC’s northeast Pacific offshore and inshore observatories — stream live data from instruments at key sites off B.C. via the Internet to scientists, policy-makers, educators and the public around the world.
Long-term observations by ONC will have wide-ranging policy applications in the areas of ocean and climate change, earthquakes and tsunamis, pollution, port security and shipping, resource development, sovereignty and security, and ocean management.
The VENUS coastal observatory is giving us a better understanding of vital water ways such as the Strait of Georgia and Fraser River delta. VENUS has extended its seafloor network, coastal radar and surface systems, including instrumentation on BC Ferries’ vessels. The new data provides information for marine safety, search and rescue, and oil spill response.
Part of our mandate is to build partnerships with academia, governments and industry across Canada and around the world. We support marine sector companies in gaining entry points to new markets worldwide and we leverage the technology and expertise of VENUS and NEPTUNE in the development of new products and services for the global ocean observing industry.
BCSN: Tell me about Oceans 2.0.
KM: Oceans 2.0 is a robust software and data management system that collects, processes, analyzes and archives huge volumes of data. We gather continuous real-time data from the seabed through fibre-optic cable from underwater sensors to the shore station before sending it on to the main servers at the University of Victoria. The data can then be accessed by scientists, governments, communities or even the public — anyone around the world can access it for free.
In addition to data delivery and data products, Oceans 2.0 also hosts products that are important for public safety, for example, early earthquake warnings. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. also use the system for video feeds on board the Okeanos Explorer and livestreams while at sea and they can connect with scientists around the world via telecommunications who have the expertise to explain what’s being seen.
BCSN: Do you have any plans to commercialize some of the applications? At present, what are your main sources of funding?
KM: Because we were previously funded as a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research, it was within our mandate to help industry so we weren’t charging, if say, for example, we were asked to fence off data for temporary periods of time for Canadian companies to develop new products. We would provide them exclusive access to certain data sets to help them get to market faster.
While we are still primarily a science organization and receive about 60 per cent of our funding from the Federal Government, we are pursuing commercial agreements for data products. For example, our earthquake early warning system was just installed for the Province of B.C. and in the future, we’ll be offering that system to major infrastructure operators like ports, airports or public utilities to provide them with an alert that will allow them to respond by shutting down valves, stopping cranes, or getting people to safety.
Another area that has been growing significantly is work with Indigenous coastal communities to help them observe different aspects of the ocean. Right now, we have a proposal being considered by Transport Canada that would see us work with seven communities across the country to integrate their own observations into their platform for marine domain awareness. They decide what they want to monitor and we provide the data and tools. We also couple that activity with education — we hire Indigenous youth science ambassadors in the community who are then trained to be able to collect and understand the data for their own communities.
BCSN: I’d like to focus now on the state of the oceans and the ways you’re working with industry to help in developing more sustainable practices.
KM: The biggest problem for the health of the oceans is acidification. The ocean absorbs about one third of the carbon dioxide burned by using fossil fuels. While that absorption is helping to reduce CO2 in the air, it creates a chemical reaction in the ocean that generates carbonic acid. When the ocean is more acidic, the base of the food web — i.e., carbonate-shelled animals — is threatened and that’s a big concern. The solution is to stop using fossil fuels. We’re on track to significantly reduce fossil fuel use and at this point, that’s probably the biggest thing we can do.
It’s important to note that one of the main functions of ONC — i.e., to observe and collect data — is critical in deciding policy and regulations for shipping. For example, as part of work with the Port of Vancouver on their ECHO program, we’ve been working with a Canadian company called JASCO Applied Sciences who have developed some of the best hydrophone systems and data analyses in the world. JASCO takes the AIS data that we capture from our receivers and those of the Coast Guard and are able to categorize and match the different types of vessels with specific noise profiles in real-time. That information helps decision-makers know whether the voluntary measures are working or whether regulatory measures should be considered.
Canada is leading the world in addressing underwater noise issues. Both the leadership of the Port and the participation of industry in implementing a slowdown trial are being recognized around the world. Now we have the technology and monitoring capabilities to see if it’s working.
In addition to the ECHO program, we continue to work with industry on a diverse array of projects. For example, we’ve had surface ocean sensors mounted on BC Ferries’ vessels for the past seven years. Measurements are used to monitor aspects of the sea like temperature changes, salinity, oxygen, nutrients, turbidity (especially with the freshet impact) to allow us to understand the state of local waters. We also have data that captures the solar intake and the colour of the surface ocean which is used to help calibrate satellite data.
All of these basic parameters are important ocean environmental variables and the longer you capture the data, the more valuable that data becomes. We’re trying to understand natural variability versus climate change variability. The West Coast of Canada is a complex part of the ocean because we have upwelling from the deep ocean which is naturally acidic and naturally low in oxygen. For example, we recently installed a small observatory in Burrard Inlet last month for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation to monitor oxygen levels and other ocean water properties that can not only help them to make decisions about recovering their traditional ocean food supply, but also help them determine whether the changes are tied to climate change or industrial or coastal development. Unless you have long-term observation, you can’t tell which it is.
BCSN: What do you see as the most pressing issues for the industry?
KM: The industry is moving toward becoming more efficient — reducing emissions and noise as well as practices like cleaner hulls. Bigger vessels help — they’re more efficient, use less fuel and bring more cargo at once. One particular issue that is being ignored throughout the industry is the oil-filled shafts on ships. The amount of oil that gets spilled into the ocean by dribs and drabs is equivalent to an Exxon Valdez spill every year. So we need to encourage industry to move in the direction of bio-lubricants, especially in areas where there’s a concentration of vessels.
BCSN: You’ve been involved in Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping since it was established in 2014. Is it achieving its goals?
KM: I believe so. The three main goals for Clear Seas are to research, engage and inform, and I think it has been successful in meeting that mandate. It’s an inclusive way to initiate and interpret research, analyze policies, identify best practices, share information and facilitate dialogue. We have commissioned a number of studies that provide foundational information for the shipping industry, including research into understanding the value of commercial marine shipping as well as the risks. It has also been tracking Canadians’ attitudes towards marine shipping.
In addition to this, the Clear Seas team engages with experts to pull together information of public interest. By compiling the best research in the field and making it accessible in one spot, they are furthering the ability of stakeholders and the general public to gain a clear understanding of the issues.
BCSN: The United Nations recently released a report that indicates species loss is accelerating tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past and that more than a million species of plants and animals are in danger of going extinct within decades. Are we moving fast enough to be able to correct course in time?
KM: I’m optimistic that we will. There have been extreme events in the past that have resulted in mass extinctions based on the natural release of CO2 and life continued. The big difference now is that we’re here — those events happened when man was not present. We’re going to have to adapt if we want to preserve our way of life. For the shipping industry, that means moving toward alternative non-carbon energies like hydrogen or electrification as quickly as possible.
BCSN: What sort of timeframe are we looking at for this shift to happen?
KM: Within the next 10 years, we need to get to half of our emissions and we need to be at zero emissions by 2050. There is supporting research for this.
Further to getting to zero emissions, we are working on negative emissions technologies. For example, ONC has partnered with Carbon Engineering, a local company in Squamish that has a $64-million capital investment to advance capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. Right now, their business model is to take the CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into fuel — in essence, they’re closing the loop so emissions are at net zero.
Building on that, we have a proposal to permanently capture the CO2 and make it inert. We’ve learned that injecting CO2 into basalt will turn the basalt into rock. Ninety-nine per cent of basalt is in the ocean, so we’ve proposed to develop large platforms, powered with renewables, and positioned over large reservoirs of basalt which would suck the CO2 out of the atmosphere and pump it into the sea floor. It’s a big idea — it will take a long time but the technology currently exists. We think that we could have a demonstration completed within the next 10 years.
That’s why I’m optimistic — technologies are being developed but it will take time. It’s important to note that the state of today’s oceans is nobody’s fault and everybody’s fault, so let’s bring all the players together to figure it out.
BCSN: What about the economic costs associated with moving away from a carbon-based economy?
KM: It will cost much less than what’s going to happen if we don’t do it. There’s a saying within the science community when it comes to climate change: we have three choices — mitigate, adapt, or suffer. There is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere that things will continue to get worse for some time to come. Storms will get more extreme and more frequent. We still have a long way to go in addressing what we’ve already put into the atmosphere but we’re not a stupid species — it’s just that our priorities are misdirected.
About Kate Moran
Dr. Kathryn (Kate) Moran joined the University of Victoria in September 2011 as a Professor in the Faculty of Science and as Director of NEPTUNE Canada. In July, 2012, she was promoted to the position of President and CEO, Ocean Networks Canada. Her previous appointment was Professor at the University of Rhode Island with a joint appointment in the Graduate School of Oceanography and the Department of Ocean Engineering. She also served as the Graduate School of Oceanography’s Associate Dean, Research and Administration. From 2009 to 2011, Moran was seconded to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where she served as an Assistant Director and focused on Arctic, polar, ocean, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and climate policy issues.
Moran holds degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Rhode Island and Dalhousie University. Her research focuses on marine geotechnics and its application to the study of paleoceanography, tectonics and seafloor stability. She has authored more than 45 publications.
About Ocean Networks Canada
The University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada monitors the west and east coasts of Canada and the Arctic to continuously deliver data in real-time for scientific research that helps communities, governments and industry make informed decisions about our future. Using cabled observatories, remote control systems and interactive sensors, and big data management ONC enables evidence-based decision-making on ocean management, disaster mitigation, and environmental protection.
The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe in real time. Data is collected on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. These facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.
For more information: www.oceannetworks.ca.