Emerging technologies for exploration and independent monitoring of seafloor extraction in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

[The following is a transcript from a talk I gave at the 2019 Minerals, Materials, and Society Symposium at the University of Delaware in August, 2019. It has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Good afternoon and thank you all for coming. I want to change tracks for a bit and scan the horizon to think about what the future of exploration and monitoring in the high seas might look like because ocean and conservation technology is in the midst of an evolutionary shift in who has access to the tools necessary to observe the deep ocean.

This is the Area. Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, International Waters, the High Seas, the Outlaw Ocean. It’s the portion of the ocean that falls outside of national EEZs and is held in trust by the UN under the Convention on the Law of the Sea as the Common Heritage of Humankind. It covers 64% of the ocean and nearly half of the total surface of the Earth. It’s also the region in which most major deep-sea mining ventures intend to operate.

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Hagfish, chill Puffins, swamp monsters, the mining boat floats, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: April 2, 2018

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

  • Want to help stem the tide of misinformation online and off? Do you have it all figured out and just need resources to implement your world-saving solution? The Rita Allen Foundation is looking for Solutions to Curb the Spread of Misinformation.

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

The Levee (A featured project that emerged from Oceandotcomm)

Beware the Feu Follet, by Russell Arnott

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A new Gulf oil spill, opposition to deep-sea mining, DIY drop cameras, and more! Massive Monday Morning Salvage: October 30, 2017

I’ve been away for 2 weeks, so it’s a super-massive edition of the Monday Morning Salvage!

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Sampling SMS under the sea Photo: Nautilus Minerals

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web)

Hey, Andrew, how about you give us at least *some* good news today? Ok, fine.

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Documentation is the beating heart of open-science hardware: Help make ours better!

Four generations of OpenCTD.

The OpenCTD and Oceanography for Everyone has been a five year journey from inception to first field-ready model and we’re just getting started. Building a community-driven project like this requires not just expertise (that we didn’t have when we started), passion, resources, it requires documentation. Extensive, detailed, thorough documentation. Documentation is what sets an open-science hardware project apart from just another lab hack. It allows other users to replicate and validate your design. It’s the key ingredient that makes a project like the OpenCTD actually Open.

As we’ve expanded the OpenCTD, we’ve maintained comprehensive instructions for construction and operation. We’ve included notes from critical field deployments, raw data for comparisons, hardware tests, and support software.

In a lot of ways, documentation is the peer-review of open-science hardware projects.

We need your help! We are in the midst of preparing our first hardware manuscript for the OpenCTD. This paper will be a benchmark for the project and provide a citable resource for CTD users. As part of the manuscript, we will archive a static version of the OpenCTD documentation in a permanent repository for reference. Here’s what we need from you:


Hey Team Ocean! Southern Fried Science and Oceanography for Everyone is supported by contributions from our readers. Head over to Patreon to help keep our servers running an fund new and novel ocean outreach projects. Even a dollar or two a month will go a long way towards keeping our website online and producing the high-quality marine science and conservation content you love.

The many, many ways I screwed up my first science crowdfunding campaign.

Four generations of field hardened OpenCTDs.

It’s been over five years since Kersey Sturdivant and I launched Oceanography for Everyone – The OpenCTD, my first attempt at crowdfunding science. Over the years, that initial effort has grown into Oceanography for Everyone, a community of researchers, educators, and citizen scientists, and has created new open-source tools for open-source, open-science hardware. The OpenCTD is the finest oceanographic instrument that you can build in your own home for less than $300.

The crowdfunding campaign was a total disaster.

Since then, I’ve written several articles on how scientists can launch and managed crowdfunding campaigns:

…but I’ve never written explicitly about what we did wrong during that campaign and how it impacted our success. Now that the final reward from that campaign has been delivered (yes, five years later, talk about the eternally delayed crowdfunding campaign), it’s the right moment to look back and think about how everything went so wrong.

went with lesser-known platforms. We launched the OpenCTD on RocketHub. At the time, RocketHub was hosting the #SciFund Challenge, a campaign to encourage scientists to launch science crowdfunding campaigns. Both the #SciFundChallenge and RocketHub were relatively small players in the nascent crowdfunding world. RocketHub doesn’t even appear to do crowdfunding anymore, they’ve pivoted to a “social network for entrepreneurs”. The old OpenCTD campaign page is long deprecated. #SciFund Challenge’s website hasn’t been updated in almost half a year.

Here’s the thing with crowdfunding, and especially crowdfunding in the early days: There are two dominant communities that you can rely on. There’s the community of people who want to support what you’re doing and there’s the community of people enamored with the idea of crowdfunding. Being a crowdfunding “investor” is a hobby in and of itself and many of the biggest donors are people who support dozens of different campaigns. So the larger and more popular the platform, the more crowdfunding enthusiasts you’ll attract. Heck, since backing the very first OpenROV, I’ve backed 23 other projects on Kickstarter, most recently Public Lab’s Balloon Mapping kits.

By going with RocketHub, I committed our campaign to a smaller potential audience. Considering Kickstarter was garnering huge press at the time, this was a near-fatal mistake.

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Hurricane Irma, the Manatee Sheriff, climate change, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: September 11, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

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Chasing Genius, aquatic brain blobs, hurricanes, bats, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: September 4, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

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Building the future with open hardware. Monday Morning Salvage: March 27, 2017

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

I spent the last week at the annual Gathering for Open Science Hardware in Santiago, Chile exploring the future of science and the open-source movement with one of the most impressive hardware developers, hackers, makers, and artists in the world. It’s my travel day, so this will necessarily be a short one.

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Open source. Open science. Open Ocean. Oceanography for Everyone and the OpenCTD

Andrew compares the OpenCTD readout to a hand refractometer, because apparently he's a hipster ecologist.

Andrew compares the OpenCTD readout to a hand refractometer, because apparently he’s a hipster ecologist.

Nearly four years ago, Kersey Sturdivant and I launched a bold, ambitious, and, frankly, naive crowdfunding initiative to build the first low-cost, open-source CTD, a core scientific instrument that measures salinity, temperature, and depth in a water column. It was a dream born from the frustration of declining science funding, the expense of scientific equipment, and the promise of the Maker movement. After thousands of hours spent learning the skills necessary to build these devices, hundreds of conversations with experts, collaborators, and potential users around the world, dozens of iterations (some transformed into full prototypes, others that exist solely as software), and one research cruise on Lake Superior to test the housing and depth and temperature probes, the OpenCTD has arrived.

Kersey strike a pose while deploying an OpenCTD in our local estuary.

Kersey strikes a pose while deploying an OpenCTD in our local estuary.

Over the last week, Kersey and I have been hard at work building a battery of CTDs while methodically documenting the construction process. You can watch the event unfurl on the #HackTheOcean hashtag. We now have three new CTDs ready to be distributed to collaborators at various institutions for more field tests and, in particular, to assess the precision of three different conductivity probes, all of which have been calibrated and validated here, in Virginia.

OpenCTD versus commercial CTD temperature and depth test. Conductivity test are occurring this summer, but initial surveys indicated no significant deviation from commercial instruments (indeed, we’re even using a commercial conductivity circuit that has been thoroughly tested in other environmental monitoring contexts.)

Now, finally, after 4 years of challenges and opportunities, of redesigns, re-education, and re-development, it’s time for you to join our open-source community of Citizen Oceanographers and build your own OpenCTD!

We’ve hosted the entire build guide, as well as the software, 3D printer files, support documentation, and raw data from our first research cruise in the Oceanography for Everyone GitHub repository, where you can also find guides and designs for the BeagleBox field computer and the Niskin3D 3D-printable Niskin bottle. 3D print files are also available on Thingiverse, if you’re more comfortable with that platform. We’ve also gone out of our way to make the build as simple as possible. You’ll need to learn basic programming and electronics, but the technical aspects of building your own CTD shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.

Over these four years, the OpenCTD has grown from a single project to a community of citizen oceanographers committed to making the tools needed to study the oceans as accessible as possible. As my friend and colleague Eric Stackpole said upon launching the first OpenROV kickstarter:

“Ocean exploration shouldn’t require a research grant, it should require curiosity.”


Since launching, numerous people have asked us if we can build an OpenCTD for them. We are not really set up to be a manufacturer of CTDs, however, get in touch with either me ([email protected]) or Kersey ([email protected]) and we can talk about holding an OpenCTD training workshop with your institution or organization.