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IEEE Oceanic Engineering Socity

History of IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society

From the early 1980s onwards, a growing awareness of the relationship between the oceans, ocean circulation, and the earth’s climate meant that a major emphasis in oceanic engineering in the coming decades would be on understanding the ocean-atmosphere interaction. The topic of climate change gathered urgency and public attention in those years thanks to some dramatic weather events, and as the role of oceans in these events was more and more clearly understood.

In 1986, researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University successfully predicted that year’s El Niño event months in advance using a computer model of ocean-atmosphere coupling. The dramatic effects of that year’s El Niño worldwide – floods, droughts, diseases – together with scientists’ growing ability to explain the ways in which those effects are related, began to focus public interest and attention on the oceans. People living thousands of miles from any sea began to understand that what happened in the oceans affected them.

Understanding the complicated and interconnected global events which oceanographers and meteorologists — as well as scientists from other disciplines — were studying from the mid-1980s onwards required enormous amounts of data, as well as mathematical modeling techniques to manipulate it. Reducing the costs of oceanic data collection was a major consideration behind the technologies developed by oceanic engineers.

According to a paper presented by John J. Carey and Joseph Vadus at the OCEANS’91 conference, the United States’ National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was expected to receive 200 terabytes of data per year by the year 2000.

Oceanic engineers during the 1980s and 1990s would bring their creativity to bear in designing a host of sophisticated, reliable, and prolific instrument buoys, profiling floats, remote-sensing satellites, and real-time data transmitters, as well as in writing the software and graphics to model and visualize the information generated by them. By the end of the twentieth century, thousands of buoys and floats, and scores of satellites, were providing vastly improved and more abundant data to scientists studying the oceans. John J. Carey and Joseph Vadus called environmental observation and data relay satellites “the most significant advance in ocean data collection.”

The discipline of artificial intelligence found applications in controlling autonomous underwater vehicles. Image-processing advances paralleled the improvements in image-generating synthetic aperture sonars. The fields of underwater acoustics and signal processing technology became increasingly prominent, especially for use with the increased sampling power of acoustic Doppler-type measurements and remote-sensing devices which improved upon the capabilities of direct measurement devices using rotor and vane, or propellers. High-frequency radar which could measure and map current, wave, and ice echoes was a major research direction of the mid-1980s. By 1986, surface current measurements of an accuracy of 1-2 cm*s -1 were being attained by these radars, considerably better than the accuracy possible with standard current meters.

Although many of these advances in oceanic engineering took place in laboratories or test platforms beyond the eye of the general public, there were occasionally events which focused public attention on the research, or at least on its products. The explosion of the United States space shuttle Challenger in January 1986, and the quest for answers as to the cause of the disaster, was one such event. Recovery of the debris from the explosion was vital to the investigation, and some of the most important pieces of that debris were underwater at depths which would make it very difficult to find and recover. That February, six unmanned remotely-operated vehicles – the ROVs, Sprint, Recon IV, two Scorpios, Deep Drone, and Gemini — and two manned submersibles — the Johnson Sea Link II, and the nuclear-powered NR-1 – succeeded in finding and recovering debris from the Atlantic Ocean floor at depths ranging from sixty-seven to three hundred and sixty-five meters. In particular, the submersibles were able to recover the pieces of the booster rocket, which was crucial in allowing investigators to reconstruct the series of mechanical failures which had caused the shuttle’s explosion.

The enormous increase in telecommunications traffic towards the end of the twentieth century, and the vast amounts of revenue which such traffic was capable of generating, was another important driver of oceanic engineering. Engineering the many complex components – especially the lasers and repeaters — of an undersea telephone cable so that those would work reliably and continuously in the cold and pressure of the deep ocean floor was a complex task. Moreover, accurate undersea surveys of the projected cable routes needed to be carried out in order to avoid damaging terrain or costly unexpected obstacles which might hinder the laying of such cables. All of these applications used oceanic engineering. The first transatlantic telephone cable had gone into service in 1956, capable of carrying thirty-six telephone channels. Six cables and thirty-six years later, the demand for circuits continued to grow. In 1988, TAT-8 — the first fiber-optic transatlantic telephone cable – went into service. A joint project of AT&T, British Telecom International, and DGT of France, the cable could transmit as many as 37,500 simultaneous telephone conversations. Its amplifiers were spaced approximately sixty-four miles apart.

The design and testing stage of TAT-8’s components provided a somewhat droll reminder of how much humankind has yet to learn about the oceans, and the reasons why designs for ocean use need to take into account often complex interactions. The section of state-of-the-art test cable installed near the Canary Islands attracted sharks, who caused it to fail by biting into its plastic coverings. The electrical fields emitted by the repeaters apparently attracted the sharks (who are accustomed to following the electrical fields of their prey), and who then attacked the cable. Because fiber-optic cables are of smaller diameter than their copper predecessors, the sharks could get their mouths around them and do far more damage than to earlier cables. The story of the unexpected complication provided good copy for the popular press, which in turn made readers — who had probably never considered that there might be a relationship between telephone calls and sharks – more aware of the oceans’ place in their lives.


The twenty fourth Student Poster Program of the Conference Series was held in Bremen, Germany as a part of OCEANS’09IEEEBREMEN. Once again there were many outstanding posters representing a wide variety of work. Once again the students came from Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, Canada and the UK and the United States. Fifty nine student poster abstracts were received and twenty students were selected to present their posters. Two students did not show up and one was late in arriving. However eighteen posters were displayed and judged. The posters were located in a good location in the Exhibition Hall. As you entered the hall, the posters were off to you right and immediately caught your attention.

The Poster program began with a briefing and review of the rules on Tuesday morning. Each student then gave a short description of the poster to the fellow students and judges. Following the Opening Plenary Session the posters were mounted in their assigned places and the program began. Once again the program was supported by a financial grant from the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research. The climax of the program came on Wednesday evening at the gala reception in the Old Town Hall. This magnificent room was a fitting way to honor the students for their work and participation in this program. The students assembled in front of the podium and were introduced by Mr. Norman D. Miller, IEEE/OES Student Activities Coordinator. Mr. Miller gave a brief history of the program and then announced the winning posters. Dr. Martina Patzold in turn gave the award Certificate to Dr. Christoph Waldmann and he gave it to the student. At the completion of the Awards ceremony all of the students received a round of applause for their work. Many photos were taken and congratulations abounded.


First Place – Thibaut Lurton

Second Place – Marcos Sastre
– Shyam Kumar Madhusudhana

Third Place – Valentin Soulenq
– Ismael Aymerich
– Grant Pusey


Oceans 09

From the early 1980s onwards, a growing awareness of the relationship between the oceans, ocean circulation, and the earth’s climate meant that a major emphasis in oceanic engineering in the coming decades would be on understanding the ocean-atmosphere interaction.