The use of AI is increasingly popular and accessible in today’s world. From facial recognition to self-driving cars, artificial intelligence can be used to help improve efficiency and function. This technology is becoming common in technological and medical fields but can also be used in many others. In the field of marine sciences it is being used to help quickly and accurately identify species of marine plants and animals. However, we believe it can be used for more than just this.
An increasing problem of the modern world is how to deal with trash. Waterways such as rivers and the oceans are becoming more and more clogged with debris. Most notably, two huge garbage patches are floating in the Pacific Ocean, along with smaller patches in other oceans. These patches are formed mostly of plastics. Moreover, plastic in the ocean is continuously broken down by photodegradation, creating microplastics that pollute the water. Removing this trash, and especially microplastics, is often a long, labor-intensive process. As people work towards a more efficient system, we think AI could be put to good use.
Another danger of plastic-polluted oceans is the toxic chemicals released by plastic as it starts to slowly break down. Substances such as bisphenol A (BPA) and polystyrene-based oligomers can be found in plastic-filled waters. Research shows that BPA most likely affects hormone production and leads to infertility, high blood pressure, and obesity. Polystyrene (Styrofoam) has been shown to be a carcinogenic in animals and a neurotoxin to humans. Addressing these issues is not easy, and ongoing development is needed. A possible use of AI would be to develop an AI bot that can swim in the oceans and detect plastic objects and particles. These could be deployed either from land or sea, and they would go to areas known to have plastic pollution. The AI bot could be trained to detect both the bi-products of deteriorating plastic and plastic itself.
Once detected, it could do one of two things, depending on available technology. The first option would be possible with the technology of today. The AI bot could retrieve the plastic pieces and particles, bringing them back to a larger ship or land. Then, the pollutants could be properly recycled. This system would be more efficient than humans doing the hard work of sorting through a floating trash mat. This plastic would probably then go to landfills, which is not ideal, but better than being in the ocean. The second option of what this bot could do would need further scientific development.
As of today, there are many different types of bacteria and enzymes that can eat and break down plastic. Different species deteriorate different types of plastics. For example, many different bacteria and enzymes can eat away at polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics (of which containers, bottles, and food containers are made), but few can deteriorate polyethylene (PE) plastics (used to make other containers, plastic wrap, and grocery and trash bags). These bacteria and enzymes are not widely used yet, as they are a relatively new area of study. Many of them also currently need to be lab-modified or lab-produced to be efficient enough to use effectively. We think that as research continues in this area, this could be used in conjunction with AI technology. AI bots swimming in plastic-filled waters could detect what type of plastic it comes in contact with; then, it would release the correct bacteria or enzymes needed to eat away at this plastic. Further research, development, and testing would need to be done to ensure that the organisms released are non-toxic to a marine environment. This technology could also be used on oil spills. For many years, scientists have known about naturally-occurring, oil-eating bacteria present in water. These bacteria feed on hydrocarbons, which includes oil. When the bacteria come in contact with an excess of food source, they start to rapidly reproduce, helping to quickly clean the oil spill.
Different temperatures of water (i.e., Gulf of Mexico versus Arctic) contain different species of hydrocarbon-eating bacteria. The same technology that could be developed for plastic clean-up could be used to help clean unwanted oil from the water. The AI bot could be trained to detect oil and then release the correct bacteria to help combat the pollutant. This system could also be used to continuously patrol areas where oil rigs are present. If oil is detected in the water, it could both send an alert of the spill and deal with the emergent situation. Another use of AI in marine sciences could be to use it for the monitoring of submarine volcanoes. Because these fascinating volcanoes are so hidden from our sight, often miles under the water, it is hard to discover more about them.
In many cases, eruptions do not even show signs on the surface. These deep-water phenomena pose numerous questions that scientists are eager to answer. Submarine volcanoes have rarely been caught in action. Most often, scientists find evidence and effects of eruption after the fact. Researchers are looking to answer questions concerning how they erupt, how the environment reacts, and the volcanoes’ relation to plate tectonics. These volcanic areas are currently explored either by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), which are human-controlled, or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which are pre-programmed. Both of these vehicles can collect important information such as conducting sonar mapping and gathering water samples. To analyze any samples, natural conditions have to be maintained while being brought to the surface, which can be tricky considering the extreme pressure and high heat of deep-sea volcanoes. The pressure in these areas is usually around 100 times the pressure of the surface, and the temperature can reach 400°C. Another struggle with observing submarine volcanoes can be to observe them at all. Because of their extreme depth, it is very easy to miss an eruption. In fact, only two eruptions have ever been seen in action. These gave scientists a much better understanding of underwater volcanic systems, and it would be invaluable to be able to observe more. Scientists and researchers are often alerted to eruptions through hydroacoustic monitoring and are able to study the aftermath. But it is hard to catch one in action. We believe AI can be used to help bridge the gap in our knowledge of these mysterious ecosystems. An AI vehicle could be made to patrol areas of known activity. It could also be equipped with technology to analyze water, gas, and rock samples in their natural environment. This vehicle could also receive information from hydroacoustic monitors about the seismic activity. This way, it could be present to observe an eruption in action and be able to analyze the area after. This would greatly help researchers to understand these volcanic systems would help lead to a greater understanding of plate tectonics and seismic activity. AI can be an excellent tool in various fields of study. As AI technology progresses, it can be well-used in conjunction with correlating research in other areas. Especially in marine sciences, this new technology and research can be used to restore ocean waters to natural health, and discover more about our amazing oceans. As technology progresses and new scientific breakthroughs are made, AI can assist us in efficient environmental conservation and exploration.

Author's Bio: 

I am a computer science professor. Being a tech enthusiast I keep close tabs on trends and will be glad to share and discuss the latest wrapups in the field with the community.