IBM, governments contribute to improve data gathering and analysis; project has applications for public safety and environmental stewardship

A new collaboration between IBM Canada and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a major ocean research institute headquartered at the University of Victoria, includes big plans for the use of big data.

The three-year, multi-million dollar project announced Monday will equip British Columbia with a monitoring and prediction system to respond to off-shore accidents, tsunamis and other natural disasters.

Titled “Smart Oceans BC,” the new initiative will gather and analyze data from ONC’s growing network of hundreds of cabled marine sensors off the west coast. That data will be analyzed to improve environmental stewardship and public and marine safety. The system will monitor vessel traffic, waves, currents and water quality in major shipping arteries and will be able to predict the impact of off-shore earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surge, and underwater landslides.

IBM is investing $12 million in cloud computing infrastructure, analytics software, services and skills training to support this next phase of the system, which will position Canada as a global leader in ocean technology. The company is contributing to internships to train over a dozen BC university students in the emerging industry of smart oceans systems technology.

ONC will use an IBM on-premise cloud to run simulations on earthquakes and tsunamis with a goal of predicting their behaviour and potential impact on coastal areas. This information should be of value to a range of audiences from public safety agencies to public transportation, tourism, and other industries operating in the area.

ONC researchers will also employ a suite of IBM visual analytics, data streams processing, machine learning and data exploration software to develop, test and run commercially applicable decision-support systems that could help industrial and governmental agencies with sea state, pollution monitoring, spill response and other aspects of ocean management.

“Smart Oceans BC is a new initiative for Ocean Networks Canada,” said Dr. Kate Moran, president of ONC, at the announcement event. “ONC brings the oceans to the world in what we call ‘the Internet-connected ocean.’ This will help us to make BC the smartest coast in the world.”

Moran outlined some of the benefits of the new program. In addition to improving the safety of commercial shipping traffic in the waters off the BC coast, the project will provide better environmental monitoring, enabling the establishment of a baseline assessment of environmental conditions that can be used to monitor future changes. And there’s a strong public safety component; in particular, Smart Oceans BC will enable authorities to issue a 30 to 90 second advance warning of major earthquake groundshaking, Moran said, a lifesaver that also has commercial possibilities.

Smart Oceans BC is also supported by the University of Victoria, the British Columbia provincial government and the Canadian federal government’s Department of Western Economic Diversification, which is contributing funds to operate a number of additional underwater observatories and high frequency coastal radars.

As part of the initiative, SMEs will gain access to technology demonstrations and commercialization assistance, as well as international business development services offered by the ONC Innovation Centre.

IBM and ONC will also be setting up a Virtual Compute Lab for remote First Nations communities. The system will let First Nations people use any connected device to access a range of ONC and university curriculum in their own community via the Internet, allowing them to attend university without having to physically relocate to a campus.

ONC estimates the global market for smart oceans systems technology will grow from $4 billion to at least $6 billion by 2020.

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