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INNOVATORS Q&A

Tracking trends and ocean temperatures could give R.I. fisherman an edge

Ocean State Sensing measures and plots water temperature from the sea bed to the surface in real time

Narragansett Bay
Narragansett BayDavid L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at alexa.gagosz@globe.com.

Tony Eliasen and Brian Amaral, the co-founders of Newport, Rhode Island-based Ocean State Sensing, are focused on sensing and mapping temperatures in the water to be able to observe and track events. (Amaral is not related to the Boston Globe reporter.)

In real time, they are able to measure and plot water temperature from the sea bed to the surface, a tracking system that they say reveals connections within the biosphere that are otherwise unknown.

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Ocean State Sensing

Q: What does Ocean State Sensing do?

Eliasen: We are a temperature sensing services company focused on the maritime environment. We provide high-resolution, continuous, in-situ sensing services. Our goal is to improve the understanding of the dynamic shifts in our climate and oceans to affect positive change and stewardship of the marine industries and the planet.

Q: Are you conducting sensing and mapping temperatures just off Rhode Island’s coastline, or elsewhere?

Amaral: At the moment we are [focused on Rhode Island], but we have plans to conduct data collection events in multiple places. We are actively seeking collaborators, partners and funding to help us grow our services and applications. One event we are excited about is partnering with a local fisherman to tow our gear behind the boat and measure the entire water column temperature at once as the boat drives up and down Narragansett Bay.

Q: What is the difference between satellite and point-based measurements?

Amaral: Satellites provide temperature data of the surface of the ocean which for many places in the world is accurate only for the first few feet of water. It does not provide data beyond the surface. To get this data, a temperature probe is lowered into the water, and the probe records the temperature of the water touching it. This is a point-based measurement, because it is measuring the temperature at a single point in water depth, at the latitude and longitude it was lowered into the water.

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We are able to measure the entire water column at once, and when we tow the equipment, we can measure swaths of data, all of which is measured continuously and in real time.

Brian Amaral, co-founder of Ocean State Sensing.
Brian Amaral, co-founder of Ocean State Sensing.Ocean State Sensing

Q: What kinds of ocean events are you tracking?

Eliasen: Initially, we are focusing on micro-information. Things like “At what depth is the temperature perfect for the kind of fish that I want to catch?” and “Where is the temperature perfect for my aquaculture project?” We are also looking to develop a project with our friends from IntelliReefs. We are aiming to set up an in-water experiment that demonstrates the ability of their new casted coral reef restoration material to not only attract marine life but to also absorb temperature fluctuations to protect the corals living on them from transient temperature events that are believed to cause coral bleaching.

Ultimately, we want to work on the “macro” scale for ocean temperature monitoring. We would like to have our systems incorporated on weather buoys, navigational buoys, and towed on trans-oceanic cargo ships and cruise ships; all collecting and providing data to the scientific community and curious onlookers alike. The more that we are able to collect the better chance we have at learning the secrets that lie beneath the waves.

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Q: How can your work help the fishing industry in Rhode Island and New England?

Amaral: We aim to work with local fishermen to develop a meaningful process of temperature targeted fishing. We can reduce by-catch by fishing in the area and depth of water where the temperature matches the preferred temperature zone of the targeted fish species.

With adequate support and funding we can monitor temperature gradients and fluctuations of fisheries by placing our equipment both nearshore and offshore that will allow stakeholders to observe and track underwater thermal events in key areas like the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, Nantucket Shoals, and the Scotian Shelf.

Q: You said sensing and mapping temperature in the water can reveal connections within the biosphere that are otherwise unknown. How so?

Amaral: We are able to measure and map the underwater boundaries of currents and eddies that are not visible from satellite imagery. For example, when an eddy separates from the gulf stream, it contains animals that prefer that temperature zone. Knowing the boundaries of these eddies and currents, in shallow and deep water, helps infer the biologics that could be in the area. This type of monitoring can also provide some insight to the timing and locations of migratory paths for not only fish but also marine mammals.

Additionally, as global temperatures rise, glaciers melt faster and faster and the cold, fresh water begins to disrupt the traditional ocean circulation paths. Knowing how these paths are being shifted, intensified or diminished, is significantly important to aid in the challenge against climate change.

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Tony Eliasen, co-founder of Ocean State Sensing.
Tony Eliasen, co-founder of Ocean State Sensing.Ocean State Sensing

Q: What are your year-long goals? What about your five-year goals?

Eliasen: Our first goal is to collect data to highlight some of the local dynamics in our bays as well as illustrate our company’s capabilities. We want the Gloucester Fishing Fleet to know that we can help them catch cod, flounder, and pollack while reducing by-catch and monitoring the health of the fishery. We want to demonstrate that we can observe and track underwater, warm water eddies in the Gulf of Maine to link the thermal events with catch-rates. We want to deploy our equipment as part of aquaculture infrastructure to optimize growth-rates and production.

In five years, we would like to be doing this for fisheries and fishing fleets not only in the New England area but around the globe. We want to use temperature to monitor the health and robustness of coral reefs. We want to help predict spring blooms by monitoring our bays and estuaries. We want to deploy our equipment on offshore structures like wind farms. As more sensor systems get put into place, more data becomes available for citizen scientists and academics alike, which provides the foundation that will enable us to unlock some of those underwater secrets.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.