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Harnessing the Data Revolution to Secure the Future of the Oceans

Principal Investigator
Fiorenza Micheli, Professor of Marine Science
Co-Principal Investigators
Jim Leape, Cox Consulting Professor in the School of Earth Sciences
Kevin Arrigo, Professor of Earth Sciences
Stefano Ermon, Professor of Computer Science
Margaret Levi, Professor of Political Science
Stephen Monismith, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Nicholas T. Ouellette, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Grand Challenges
How do we secure everything?
How can we use our strength in computation and data analysis to drive innovation?
Climate change is causing profound upheaval in the oceans. That upheaval is compounded by many other stresses, including acidification, pollution, overfishing and destruction of coastal habitats. Together, these pressures threaten to cause catastrophic “state shifts”– the collapse of fisheries, for example, and the sudden and irreversible transformation of ocean ecosystems from vibrant productivity and diversity to barren wastelands. 
To sustain the health of the oceans, and the ocean resources and services upon which we depend, it is urgent that we understand the risks posed by interacting stresses on the oceans, and equip policymakers, managers, and resource users to manage those risks. This project will build a sustained effort to meet this need and to train a new generation of ocean researchers and leaders who have the orientation, insights, and abilities to address the challenges of oceans in flux.
To date, research and management have tended to focus on individual uses and pressures on ocean resources. The result is that we have very limited understanding of the changes underway and, in particular, of the interaction and possible synergies among the many stresses we put on the oceans. Resource managers and users have neither the insights nor the tools they need to maintain healthy, productive ocean ecosystems.
To crack this problem, we propose an approach that is new in two important respects. First, we will capitalize on innovations of the data revolution to understand and address this emerging challenge. These innovations open up exciting new potential for modeling and data analysis that can illuminate risks and thresholds for abrupt shifts; and for providing decision-makers with timely information, an ability to identify effective interventions, and new tools for making those interventions. Second, this initiative is centered on an intensive collaboration. We have assembled a team that has deep expertise in oceanography, marine biology, fluid mechanics, modeling, computer science, social science, and policy. We are also engaging external partners who can bring new data and technology to this quest and can help translate insight into action.
This effort is ambitious and there are risks. Ocean systems are complex and thus difficult to model. Current institutions are entrenched and conservative, and slow to respond to the rapid changes upon us. New understanding and solutions inevitably face resistance.
We believe that new computation tools can help address the complexity, and that we can break through the inertia as upheavals unfold and long-vested interests are suddenly at risk. The payoffs will be in averting and mitigating those upheavals – sustaining the many services that healthy ecosystems provide.
We will not solve this problem in three years. But we can transform the possibilities, by harnessing capabilities that simply have not existed before, so that as crises create opportunities, communities and governments have the ability to respond. At the end of these three years, we will have initial key insights, solutions, and impacts; and we will have built a vibrant and enduring collaboration among researchers, an active engagement with outside partners, and a growing cadre of leaders for this new era.