(Featured) Marine Spatial Planning – A New Perspective Based On The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework.


The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), has become the theatre of geopolitical and geo-strategic interactions in the 21st century, and various nations both from within and the extra-regional powers are deploying their strategic assets in the region. It is the Indo part of the Indo-Pacific strategic space, which is largely defined as the tropical littoral waters of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The tropical waters present unique challenges and opportunities- politically, economically, and physically, thus any attempt at governance must account for the unique tropical characteristics[1].

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is probably the most effective tool for governance and management of challenges and opportunities in the marine as well as the freshwater systems. The precise mapping of the resources, their quality & availability, concerns of security & sustainability and many more can really help in their effective and efficient exploitation. The exploration is equally critical and there again, MSP can be a great tool. All kinds of policy & technology interventions can be deployed using MSP in vast marine and freshwater systems[2].

The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), became a popular concept in all the strategic interactions in the 21st century. The 9/11 in the US and the 26/11 in India were the two main triggers for the rapid infrastructure and capacity building initiatives globally to ensure MDA. However, being an event driven concept, it remained limited to the security community and restricted the participation of the other stakeholders, namely blue economy, disaster management and science & technology. The democracies can never allocate infinite resources to one stakeholder at the cost of others[3].

It may be important to remind the readers that the maritime domain is more than 90% below the surface of the water and the ongoing MDA has least sub-surface penetration. It is well known that the scientific community knows more about space than underwater. Thus, Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) remained a completely unknown and ignored area of knowledge and understanding. The global community can ill-afford to continue to remain distant from UDA. The ongoing MDA has remained on surface and non-inclusive on several fronts[4].

The UDA framework proposed by the Maritime Research Center (MRC), Pune is a unique concept to address multiple challenges and opportunities in the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific and beyond. The pooling of resources and synergizing of efforts being encouraged by the UDA framework will certainly solve the resource limitation of the developing nations and also mitigate the fragmentation among the stakeholders. The UDA framework has the technology driven digital transformation at its core, thus. MSP is better served by the UDA framework to manage the Indo-Pacific construct[5].

Indian Ocean Region (IOR)

The IOR has multiple aspects that requires customized and nuanced approach to manage the challenges and opportunities. The socio-political and socio-economic situation makes it the most vulnerable in terms of security and sustainability. The fragmented politics and instability allows the extra-regional powers to meddle into the domestic politics, so governance is a major cause of concern. The resource crunch always limits their ability to build futuristic capabilities and thus, they are always catching up. The rich socio-cultural heritage has been completely ignored at the behest of the west and thus the traditional knowledge is being replaced by the modern knowhow imported from the west. The young population is aspirational, however the slow and erratic governance mechanism is causing massive disillusionment. The non-state actors are finding it easy to mislead these young people for unlawful and terrorist activities[6].

The tropical waters present sub-optimal sonar performance, when deployed in these waters compared to the temperate and polar region. Thus, the sonars being imported from the west suffer more that 60% degradation in their performance, when deployed here. The UDA in these waters, require a significant amount of local indigenous effort and cannot be driven by imported equipment and knowhow. The siltation in the tropical waters, again show unimaginable intensity and erratic flow. Thus, water resource management, port management, navigability of the waterways, water quality management and more need to be addressed, keeping in mind the unique tropical conditions. The sediment management across varied applications require site specific and customized approach. Indigenous effort is inescapable5.

India has been one of the oldest civilization globally, that dates back over 10,000 years and we have been a known maritime power in the past. Even as a civilization, we have managed our water issues very well. The global community has always been looking up to us for technology and knowhow as far as the shipbuilding and seafaring is concerned. We have had very matured waterway systems across our rivers and the navigability has been traditionally managed with high levels of local knowledge, passed down across generations. Economic growth and prosperity has been the cause of multiple European powers invading us and then subjugating us for over few centuries. The industrial revolution happened during that period and we really missed the bus. Fragmentation was the cause of our downfall and we continue to remain fragmented geopolitically in the region[7].

The tropical waters also present rich biodiversity and unimaginable mineral resources undersea. The freshwaters are equally rich on the underwater resources, both living and non-living. The effective & sustainable, exploration & exploitation of these resources, will require a nuanced approach, driven with utmost political and economic sincerity. There has been significant announcements and display of political intent, however the nuanced approach on the ground is still to be demonstrated. The Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision and the associated mega projects, like Sagarmala, Bharatmala, Inland Water Transport, Gati Shakti, Deep Sea Mission and more are some such measures. MSP will remain the core and deserves attention5.

Marine Spatial Planning

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a data driven process of generating a spatio-temporal real-time appreciation of our marine areas to optimize the human interactions, to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives that have been specified through a governance process.

MSP is not an end in itself, but a practical and scientific way to create and establish a more rational use of marine space and the interactions among the components of the ecosystem, to balance requirements of people, economy and nature. The marine areas are not the only critical elements, however the freshwater systems are equally critical and demand equal attention. The tropical waters today are at the cusp of an unimaginable churn, if not managed well, can be getting into an unstoppable downward spiral.

The real-time MSP in the tropical waters require massive acoustic capacity & capability building given the sub-optimal sonar performance. The mapping both on the surface and the sub-surface, requires deep appreciation of the acoustic propagation characteristics to generate the spatio-temporal inputs. Innovative prediction tools backed by digital signal processing algorithms are required to manage the entire digital transformation. The digital transformation is the only viable option for MSP, given the vast IOR region we are trying to manage both for the marine as well as freshwater systems[8].

The diversity of requirements is further a major challenge. The diversity in terms of people and their practices, the diversity among the stakeholders and their interaction with the ecosystem, the species diversity and their interaction with the ecosystem and the ecosystem diversity itself is unimaginable to ensure sustainability and efficiency. Direct attempt at managing these diversities will be a failed attempt at the design stage itself. We have to identify certain cross cutting parameters that will be representative of multiple diverse conditions to monitor the health of the ecosystem. Signal processing algorithms can then connect the diverse applications and components of the ecosystem to assess the impact. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has to be inclusive, backed by a detailed MSP construct[9].

The ongoing MSP efforts, somehow ignore the vast and deep underwater domain. The underwater domain awareness by construct, require acoustic capacity and capability to undertake any kind of MSP. The acoustic propagation underwater largely depends on temperature, density and pressure that impact the Sound Velocity Profile (SVP). The variations in the acoustic signal can be picked up to classify any kind of deterioration or improvement of the underwater conditions. The signal fluctuation due to actual source condition and the medium distortions needs to be differentiated before drawing any conclusion. Thus, in the tropical waters, the medium distortions that are a major cause of signal corruption needs to be mitigated effectively before any attempts at data analytics. A focussed acoustic capacity & capability building initiative that is backed by site specific local field experimental R&D, to manage the challenges and opportunities of the tropical waters is critically and urgently required[10].

Case Study

Building up real-time spatio-temporal maps has its own issues, in terms of availability of inputs and providing actionable inputs for the diverse users. The diversity of applications and the user requirements, makes it extremely complicated to formalize the final form of the deliverables. We discuss a few examples as case studies to provide a representative case to explain the challenges and opportunities[11].

The fig. 1 below, is the real-time low frequency ambient noise map generated using the Automatic Identification System (AIS) database. The entire region is divided into grids of one degree latitude and longitude and the shipping traffic in each grid is evaluated. The static (draught, tonnage, machinery details, machinery layout and more) and dynamic (speed, course, location and more) shipping data is extracted from the AIS database to drive the algorithms for computing the radiated noise at source. The environmental and underwater medium parameters are further extracted from online open source databases to compute the real-time underwater channel models for the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. The noise at source and the underwater channel model are combined to generate the real-time low frequency ambient noise map as shown in fig. 1 below. The figure below, only shows the two dimensional map and only one single frequency of 300 Hz, however the actual mapping has been done for a 3D scenario and for all frequencies from 50 Hz to 2000 Hz at 1 Hz resolution and can be generated for any resolution and any spectral range, as required. The ambient noise below 2 kHz is understood to be dominated by shipping noise.

Fig. 1 Spatio-temporal Low Frequency Ambient Noise Mapping

One can see the vast variation in the distribution of low frequency ambient noise, however it follows the shipping traffic pattern to explain the distribution. It is important for us to appreciate that this real-time spatio-temporal map can be used for multiple interventions including the following:

(a)      Policy intervention for managing sustainable shipping for ecologically sensitive areas. The dark red areas represent high levels of acoustic habitat degradation and need to be addressed with certain policy & technology interventions. The diversion of the shipping traffic, propulsion type for lowering noise, etc., are some interventions.

(b)      It provides a realistic appreciation of the qualitative and quantitative acoustic habitat degradation analysis for any kind of political and economic interventions. Real data driven interventions are always inclusive and enhance the governance mechanism.

(c)      The real-time digital transformation will allow effective cause & effect analysis for any kind of operational interventions and also long term noise quietening effort. The multiple proposals for quietening methods can be objectively evaluated in the real world using this tool. Even long term prediction of trends and corresponding interventions can be effectively managed using such tools.

(d)      The spatio-temporal ambient noise map can also be used for Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) computation for deploying any underwater sensor in the region. Such real-time and long term digital data availability will allow significant inputs for system design and deployment effectiveness.

The fig. 1 and fig. 2, can be corroborated to justify the increasing stranding of big whales and the serious acoustic habitat degradation prevalent in the west coast of India. A recent report revealed over 80 big whale stranding in the Maharashtra coast alone. The 720 km of the Maharashtra coast was not supposed to have seen big whales in the region over the last 100 years, however the recent (last decade) of shipping traffic diversion towards the coast due to piracy in the Somalia coast, has caused severe acoustic habitat degradation.

Fig.2 Recent Marine Mammal Stranding along the Indian Coast.
Left: 42 ft Blue Whale Stranding off the Alibaug Coast in Jun 2015.
Centre: 50 ft Bryde Whale Stranding off the Mumbai Coast in Jan 2016.
Right: 90 Short-Finned Pilot Whales Stranding off Tuticorin Beach in Sep 2016.

Policy interventions are urgently required, however in the absence of nuanced cause and effect analysis, such interventions become difficult. The vested interest groups are able to build narratives that mislead the policy makers and local communities.

The proposed effort has multiple innovative contributions for real impact on governance and technology development as follows:

(a)      The multi-dimensional use of the AIS data has been a great optimization of the existing system. The huge network of AIS system across the world gives us a very cost effective means to scale-up this model for the entire world. The democratization of such massive public infrastructure will enhance their own quality as well. Otherwise, it was being used only for narrow security purposes.

(b)      The addition of the local tropical underwater channel model is a big addition to bring focus into the tropical waters and the Indo-Pacific region. The west driven global policy initiative will become more inclusive and allow more realistic participation by the local players.

(c)      The digital transformation with focus on acoustic signal processing, will allow far more science & technology inclusion into policy interventions and governance mechanism. The cost optimization will democratise the entire global policy formulation.

(d)      The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has already taken cognition of the unique tropical characteristics and is now considering a regional framework. Such recognition of the local site specific aspects for policy formulation will go a long way in ensuring inclusive governance mechanisms.

(e)      The real-time data driven and quantitative and qualitative analysis of local site specific inputs will go a long way in building digital infrastructure for effective policy & technology interventions along with the acoustic capacity & capability building.

Similar spatio-temporal maps can be generated for the local coastal and riverine communities involved in multiple traditional practices of pisciculture, aquaculture, seaweed farming and many more. These can be better managed with such application of spatio-temporal digital tools for policy intervention, operational interventions and also managing the business models. The regulators can monitor long term sustainability impact using such digital tools to derive MSP outputs. Micro and macro MSP tools need to be developed using the digital tools across the 3D, underwater region.

Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework

The concept of Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) in a more specific sense will translate to our eagerness to know what is happening in the undersea realm of our maritime areas and also the freshwater systems. This keenness for underwater awareness from the security perspective, means defending our Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), coastal waters, waterways and varied waterfront assets against the proliferation of submarines and mine capabilities intended to limit the access to the seas and littoral waters. However, just the military requirement may not be the only motivation to generate underwater domain awareness. The earth’s undersea geophysical activities have a lot of relevance to the wellbeing of the human kind and monitoring of such activities could provide vital clues to minimize the impact of devastating natural calamities. The commercial activities in the underwater realm need precise inputs on the availability of resources to be able to effectively and efficiently explore and exploit them for economic gains. The regulators on the other hand need to know the pattern of exploitation to manage a sustainable plan. With so much of activities, commercial and military, there is significant impact on the environment. Any conservation initiative needs to precisely estimate the habitat degradation and species vulnerability caused by these activities and assess the ecosystem status. The scientific and the research community need to engage and continuously update our knowledge and access of the multiple aspects of the undersea domain. Fig. 2, presents a comprehensive perspective of the UDA. The underlying requirement for all the stakeholders is to know the developments in the underwater domain, make sense out of these developments and then respond effectively and efficiently to them before they take shape of an event.

The UDA on a comprehensive scale needs to be understood in its horizontal and vertical construct. The horizontal construct would be the resource availability in terms of technology, infrastructure, capability and capacity specific to the stakeholders or otherwise. The stakeholders represented by the four faces of the cube will have their specific requirements, however the core will remain the acoustic capacity and capability. The vertical construct is the hierarchy of establishing a comprehensive UDA. The first level or the ground level would be the sensing of the underwater domain for threats, resources and activities. The second level would be making sense of the data generated to plan security strategies, conservation plans and resource utilization plans. The next level would be to formulate and monitor regulatory framework at the local, national and global level. 

Fig. 2 Comprehensive Perspective of Undersea Domain Awareness

The figure above gives a comprehensive way forward for the stakeholders to engage and interact. The individual cubes represent specific aspects that need to be addressed. The User-Academia-Industry partnership can be seamlessly formulated based on the user requirement, academic inputs and the industry interface represented by the specific cube. It will enable more focused approach and well defined interactive framework. Given the appropriate impetus, the UDA framework can address multiple challenges being faced by the global community today. Meaningful engagement of young for building a future, probably is the most critical aspect that deserves attention. Multi-disciplinary and multi-functional entities can interact and contribute to seamlessly synergize their efforts towards a larger goal.

The UDA Framework as proposed above has been formulated jointly by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune and M/S NirDhwani Technology Pvt Ltd (NDT). The focus is on all the three aspects namely policy & technology intervention along with acoustic capacity & capability building. More details are available in the MRC website http://foundationforuda.in/mrc/.

Acoustic Capacity & Capability Building

The acoustic capacity & capability building for MSP will include two categories of efforts. The first is development of the prediction maps, using the online data available from multiple open source databases. This will require substantial computational infrastructure to manage the predictions maps in real-time. The seamless connecting of the online database to the hardware running the acoustic signal processing algorithms will be critical. The prediction tools will include underwater acoustic propagation models based on the medium parameters available from open source online databases. The application specific source prediction will include examples of Underwater Radiated Noise (URN) or sediment bed load prediction, species specific vocalization or hearing impact assessment and more. Each of the specific application will have its own input-output matrix and will have to be carefully addressed. The source-path-receiver model has to be carefully designed and implemented.

Source is the original signal underwater that needs to be analysed. This will include application specific source signal like URN of marine platforms, species vocalization, activity specific signal at source and more. The acoustic characteristics of the source signal needs to be picked up with finer details.

Path is the medium distortion that is likely to happen during the source signal propagation in the underwater medium. The high resolution underwater channel model with a precise mapping of the medium conditions is critical. Combining the source signal and the path modification is the key to the accurate prediction of the received signal.

Receiver is the victim or the aggressor. The receiver characteristic is equally important to assess the impact of the degradation on the victim. Thus, the entire effective management of the application will be tightly linked to the source-path-receiver model.

The deeper understanding of the source-path-receiver model can also be used to deliberately create a disconnect, and minimize the impact of the source on the receiver or vice-versa. The path modification can also be used to optimize the mitigation strategy across applications. The tropical waters present severe underwater medium distortions and the same can be used for lowering the threshold for URN management or for any concessions to be given to the developing world.

The second category of field validation is even more complex and infra-structure intensive. It can be segregated into three stages, namely to see, to understand and to share.

To See, includes the sensors and the platform that will carry the sensor to the site. The acoustic sensors of the required specification will have to be mounted onto the surface and the sub-surface platforms with the requisite manoeuvrability, payload, endurance, agility and more. These platforms should be optimum to the application requirement. The sensor capabilities and the sensor effectiveness will have to be factored before formalizing the deployment plan for these platforms.

To Understand, translates to the data analysis at multiple levels. The first is the pre-processing to manage the fluctuations and distortions in the data due to the measurement system, medium uncertainties, signal processing errors and more. Once the received data is cleaned up for the possible errors, we can then plan the application specific data analytics. This will require deep appreciation of the domain and the application. Even post processing will be useful to provide feedback for future data recording and measurement & analysis inputs.

To Share, is the provisioning of actionable inputs in real-time to the users at multiple levels. The policy makers need to be provided inputs with high analytical aspects, whereas the practitioners on the ground need inputs in quick and simple format for immediate action. Other associate stakeholders will have to be provided with specific inputs in desired formats. There could be static displays and mobile apps to provide the seamless interface for the users to receive actionable inputs.

The acoustic capacity & capability building, specifically for the tropical waters will require focussed approach and sustained efforts.

Conclusion and Way Ahead

The Geographic Information System (GIS) based systems have become very popular these days to manage the Marine Special Planning (MSP) based on the mapping tools for surface information. However, the underwater component requires acoustic survey to manage any kind of sub-surface inputs. The tropical waters require highly specialized understanding of the local site specific characteristics. The ambient noise and the underwater channel conditions in the tropical waters require high end modelling and simulations. Further, the larger stakeholder diversity and the application specific requirements, makes governance a very complicated exercise.

The comprehensive MSP in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), will require a nuanced approach. The UDA framework as discussed above can certainly enhance the effective realization of the MSP and corresponding governance mechanism for the entire maritime space. It is well aligned with the larger global focus on the Indo-Pacific and the regional IOR centric SAGAR vision. The global forums like QUAD and the regional groupings like BIMSTEC, IORA, IOC, IONS and others could build focus on the UDA framework for enhanced MSP. Specific aspects of the larger UDA framework could be identified and progressed with clear agenda and resource allocation. This, being a new concept, will face a lot of inertia and the following three step formulation will be in order:

Outreach     An aggressive sensitization effort will be required through webinars, seminars, workshops and other interaction means to reach out to the stakeholders, policy makers, practitioners and communities. The detailed sensitization will be extremely critical to apprise them of the nuances and relevance.

Engage        The sensitization will have to be followed up with identification of specific interest areas and intense engagement with the stakeholders and communities. The engagement will have to be at multiple levels, namely young students looking for career opportunities, where UDA fellowships can be awarded. The corporates involved in specific areas of blue economy, will have to be presented the digital transformation aspect of their relevance. The policy makers will have to be provided tools for policy & technology interventions that will help them in their governance activities. The communities involved in exploitation and exploration of the water bodies will have to be provided science & technology tools to enhance their traditional practices. These tools have to be in sync with the regulatory provisions.

Sustain        The final goal will be to build larger policy frameworks at local, national, regional and global levels. These frameworks must be aligned with the larger global trend and collective thinking. Long term and seamless infrastructure for data collection, processing and nuanced policy interventions will require project formulation and execution in a comprehensive manner. Global and regional forums must include the UDA framework in their agenda and deliberate. Their secretariats must run sustained projects to provide regular updates to the leadership to formalize the structured policy framework that is inclusive and politically viable.

The following paper was published in a renowned journal.*

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    The conventional approach of each of the stakeholders pursuing their own UDA* efforts has serious limitations given the highly resource intensive field experimental research initiative required for a long period. Click here for more