Ocean technology is a diverse field concerned with finding solutions to technical problems that occur at sea. It serves all areas of marine science that require equipment for use at sea and includes development of fishing methods, remote or manned underwater vehicles, specialist instruments for biological, physical and chemical oceanographers, marine defence technology, and navigation systems.
The ocean is a difficult environment in which to work. Two problems that always arise when working at sea are the amounts of energy carried in surface waves and the variation in this energy, which can cause havoc to man-made structures or operations. Other important problems inherent in working at sea have recently been solved (although 'solutions' can always be improved!). For example, the vastness of the oceans and the complexity and velocity of their currents have always created problems for rapid and accurate location of vessels (including liferafts) and fish stocks, but this has largely been overcome with the advent of sophisticated satellite navigation systems.
Newer technologies still undergoing development and refinement include satellite remote sensing and under water acoustic ranging. Australia is currently at the forefront of marine technologies such as the design and application of underwater tracking devices, and has two high-capacity satellite receivers, which have created many opportunities in developing technologies for a variety of applications. Other interesting and challenging new areas include the use of the ocean as a safe storage area for nuclear waste and as a buffer to modify climate changes induced by burning fossil fuels. Biotechnology is another important area of marine technology that can be expected to expand greatly in the future.
As the oceans around Australia continue to be explored, new technologies and tools will be required. The location and extraction of petroleum is always providing new challenges as the demand, by both developing and developed countries, for petroleum increases and forces companies to seek oil at ever deeper ocean sites.
The oceans also provide a very valuable source of protein which many developing countries rely on heavily. Australia has an aid program to help our northern neighbours improve their fishing technology and achieve sustainable harvests from the sea.
Ocean technology is a rewarding career for a relatively small but important group of highly trained technologists. Most study mathematics, physics, chemistry or engineering as their first degree and many continue their education to complete higher degrees.
Many of the employment opportunities for ocean technologists are with private industry, but marine technologists are also employed by the Department of Defence, other federal agencies such as CSIRO, and at some universities.
Photo: Engineers use microwave radars on an offshore platform to test the reliability of satellite sensors for monitoring oceans.