Jul 16.2021

Five IoT Use-cases for Cleaning Up The Oceans

Five IoT Use-cases for Cleaning Up The Oceans

Climate change is one of the hottest topics today, and the Internet of Things is proudly leading the change. This article highlights how IoT is helping to tackle ocean pollution.

Considering the vastness and value of our oceans, it is not surprising that awareness of the scale and gravity of marine pollution is at an all-time high. Seas bring rainfall, clean the air, and provide a livelihood for millions. They also host most of Earth’s life, from microscopic plankton to blue whales. Yet, every year, the world bombards these live-giving water bodies with numerous forms of pollution, from plastics and chemicals upstream to oil spills, carbon emissions, and even vessel noise. 

Fortunately, the burgeoning concern about oceanic pollution is driving a rapid influx of tech solutions. In recent years, connected machines and gadgets have cropped up to address marine conservation. IoT sensors, cameras, and robots can now be used to collect data for both reactive and proactive cleanup initiatives. 

Whether you are a sustainability IoT developer, prospective customer, or conservation champion, read on to discover five tested and proven IoT use cases for cleaning up the oceans. 

1. Managing Plastic Waste

Plastics are a ballooning menace in ocean conservation. The latest data from the IUCN indicates that at least 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in oceans every year, making up 80% of all marine debris. Plastic significantly affects aquatic species. Research shows that marine plastic dumps have impacted over 267 species globally. Moreover, because organic pollutants tend to attach to plastic debris, floating plastics have been found to accumulate and transport pollutants across seas.  

One of the most simple yet effective ways that IoT can help minimize plastic waste in oceans is to offer solutions that promote recycling at the user level. For example, a connected bin system with a mobile app that scans waste and suggests the right bin can help people sort their waste and encourage them to reuse and recycle more often. 

Furthermore, as the University of Oldenburg, Germany recently proved, satellite trackers can be used to collect data on plastics masses in the ocean. The gathered data can help researchers understand how plastics move and interact with marine flora and fauna, weather, wind, current, and tides. As a result, they can track litter accurately and address pollution from the source. Conservation bodies can also use the data to predict the movement of pollutants and deploy targeted and efficient cleanup operations.
2. Chemical Detection in Feeder Rivers 

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that 80 percent of all global wastewater is dumped into rivers largely untreated. Most of these rivers empty the chemical waste in oceans and seas, endangering countless plants and animal species, as well as people. For instance, in the U.S., the Mississippi River dumps approximately 1.5 million metric tons of nitrates and phosphates in the Gulf of Mexico annually, creating a “dead zone” the size of New Jersey. 

Solving chemical pollution in waterways is easier said than done. Nevertheless, IoT products exist to make the dream a reality one step at a time. Connected aquatic sensors can be deployed to detect chemicals in rivers and relay the information to research servers on the cloud. With this data, conservationists and authorities can quickly establish and eliminate contamination sources. Sensors can also retrieve accurate information about the chemicals being detected, making it easier to deploy cleanup procedures.
3. Conserving Marine Life

Oceans are teeming with life. More than one million known species of flora and fauna exist in the world’s oceans, and researchers suggest there could be as many as nine million undiscovered species. Unfortunately, despite this abundance, around 2,300 species are listed as endangered or threatened. This number is expected to grow as the impact of human activity on marine habitats worsens. According to statistics, more than 100,000 aquatic animals die from pollution every year.

Thankfully, there is much the internet of things can do to save marine life from pollution. For starters, using satellite trackers to keep up with plastics movements can help conservationists to deal with a problem before it endangers a species. 

Beyond the water, IoT-enabled aquariums can be used to breed endangered species in a connected and controlled environment. With IoT, processes like feeding and water circulation can be automated for optimum efficiency. IoT can also link aquariums to managers or students and deliver information about marine life and species conservation directly on peoples’ smartphones.

4. Reducing Carbon Dioxide Absorption

The ocean has become significantly more acidic over the past several decades due to increased carbon emissions. The rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have accelerated the rate at which the oceans absorb the gas to form carbonic acid. Heightened carbon dioxide absorption turns ocean water corrosive, making it difficult for organisms like corals and shellfish to form their skeletons and shells. Reduced coral and shellfish activity can have a significant impact on the ocean ecosystem’s biodiversity and productivity. 

IoT solutions can help alleviate carbon emissions in several unique ways. For instance, smart metering and forecasting can transition energy grids from fossil fuels to renewable sources. IoT products can also be deployed to regulate HVAC depending on a building’s occupants or industrial machine operations, minimizing emissions. 

Additionally, the Internet of Things can also help to reduce vessel emissions. Vessels cruising the oceans produce 1,000 megatons of emissions every year. IoT devices mounted on autonomous boats can monitor shipping activity closely and provide the most fuel-efficient routes. 

Perhaps the most intriguing innovation for reducing carbon emissions is carbon capture. One such solution, CarbFix, leverages IoT monitoring and automation systems to detect carbon dioxide concentrations, suck the carbon out, and convert it into minerals for energy generation. As IoT technology advances, carbon capture programs may even achieve enough scale to undo the damage caused by emissions over the past century. 

5. Containing Oil Spills

When an oil spill occurs at sea, detecting it and investigating its seriousness can be almost as challenging as the cleanup. Poor weather conditions and delays in counter-crisis deployment can further aggravate the situation. For example, the 2010 oil leak at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was only discovered two days after the first explosion and was not contained until three months later. 

Fueled by data management advancements, IoT can go a long way toward helping energy companies avoid spillages and other catastrophes. With real-time monitoring, operators and engineers can uncover underlying faults before they become problems. 

In the event of a leak, sensors can be used to alert offshore rigs, port authorities, and ships. Meanwhile, hyperspectral imaging can be employed to determine the spill's size and location, and the oil type. This data can then enable cleanup crews to create the best strategy before arriving on the scene. 

Oceans are the world’s life support. They hold 97% of the total water on Earth. The oceans also help regulate climate and absorb excess emissions. Moreover, oceans provide the primary protein source for over one billion people. This significance means we cannot afford to keep damaging the oceans. Now is the time to wholly embrace technologies like IoT to turn the tide and begin repairing the damage.

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