Cousteau to Cameron: A Quadrant Model for Undersea Marine Research Infrastructure Assessment




Kohanowich, Karen Marie

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The oceans are of great importance to society, but their visual opacity, corrosive chemical composition, and great pressure at depth make them one of the most challenging and hostile environments in which to conduct research. Many important marine science questions require data that is gathered in situ—much like that required for biological and geological fieldwork—to fully understand marine ecosystems and the interactions within them. This research, often referred to collectively as ‘submersible science,’ requires undersea systems (including human-occupied, robotic, and autonomous vehicles) that are beyond the ability of a single university or sponsor to support, but not costly enough to warrant the attention and rigor that is applied to more expensive systems such as ships or satellites. As a result, many U.S. scientists are faced with a challenging and distributed system for obtaining access to these tools, especially since a U.S. government marine research organization that supported many of these systems was discontinued in 2014. The U.S. marine research community has conducted numerous studies to address these submersible science infrastructure needs, but the studies have focused on assessing scientific priorities and infrastructure value in addressing those priorities, and have not considered the causative dynamics of economic and societal contributions to infrastructure sustainment. This study introduces a quadrant model that provides the framework to consider technical, operational, functional, and societal influences on the sustainment of U.S. undersea marine research infrastructure. It tests the model using the case of U.S. human- occupied submersibles which, from Jacques Cousteau’s diving saucer Denise to James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger, have experienced practically a full technological lifecycle within our lifetime, and have been subject to a wide range of program influences. Results include a model that features a quasi-quantitative visualization tool; validation of the model for use in further study; demonstration of the importance of societal and behavioral factors on human-occupied research submersible sustainment, and insights into U.S. marine research infrastructure dynamics.



Environmental management, Public policy, Assessment, Infrastructure, Marine research, Ocean, Submersible, Undersea technology