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Meeting a Titanic Challenge for Oceans

What have we learned after 100 years?

On April 15, 1912, more than 1,500 passengers and crew aboard the RMS Titanic perished at sea in one of the most infamous maritime disasters in all of human history. She was the largest ship afloat at the time, but the location of her wreckage remained a mystery until 1985. Many have seen similarities between the sinking of Titanic and the struggles of the gigantic cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the coast of Italy almost 100 years later.
The oceans can indeed be a dangerous place, and the news is replete with stories of the hazards of sea level rise, hurricanes, tsunamis, rogue waves, coastal flooding, shark attacks, toxic spills, oxygen-poor “dead zones,” and even modern-day pirates. On the other hand, the oceans are critical for human life itself. They feed us, regulate our weather patterns, provide over half the oxygen that we breathe, and provide for our energy and economy. Yet there is much we still don’t know about the oceans. Less than 10 percent of the ocean floor has been explored and mapped in a level of detail similar to what already exists for the dark side of the moon, for Mars, and for Venus, and less is understood of the waters beneath the surface than of our atmosphere.
Titanic was thought to be unsinkable. And 100 years later, it remains a metaphor for our continuing conundrum: we think we know what’s critical about our oceans, but we really don’t know the titanic scale of the problem. We need the knowledge provided by sound science and data to inform the responsible use and governance of the oceans, as well as effective management and conservation. We are slowly moving toward an integrated, global ocean science agenda, and yet the scope of scientific discovery remains enormous. The health of the oceans is gaining traction as a socioeconomic, political, and corporate responsibility issue, but progress is slow and expensive.

How can GIS help? How do we advance the use of GIS to make better, more-informed decisions not only about the health and stewardship of our oceans but also as a framework for ocean safety?

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