“Little Data, Before Big Data” Cousteau and H2O

“Little Data, Before Big Data”

Cousteau and H2O 

By Richard E. Hyman, Environmental Advocate & Author of FROGMEN 

Inspired by a speech I gave at 2015’s Water 2.0 Data Analytics for the Water Industry.

As a Cousteau diver aboard Calypso, data, albeit little data, was part of our ‘old school’ daily life.


It was before the Internet, PCs, tablets and Smartphones, so we used pencil and paper.

Cousteau, the co-inventor of the Aqua Lung (1942), had relationships with many prominent individuals, including Dr. Harold Edgerton of MIT. “Papa Flash” as we called him, invented the strobe light as well as side scan sonar. He joined us off North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras where we used his device to search for and find the 230-foot deep USS Monitor. The electronically tethered “fish” was hung over the port side of Calypso. It sent pulsating beams toward the seafloor. Data reflected back and communicated with the shipboard plotter, which stitched together swaths; slowly revealing a profile of the protected[1] hidden wreck.

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Cousteau’s insatiable curiosity and magical charm sparked another major relationship, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Their joint projects included innovative cooperative methods of data capture, correlation and analyses.

Their first partnership was during Cousteau’s 1972-1973 Antarctic expedition.

They collaborated again in 1974-1975, with Texas A&M graduate students joining Calypso for a Gulf of Mexico research program. Calypso was the platform. Aided by divers, students gathered ground truth information, e.g. surface water data, including content (chlorophyll, nutrients), light penetration, temperature, salinity, and the boundaries of enriching vertical currents known as upwellings, which were all correlated with overflying NASA U-2 aircraft equipped with remote scanners, simulating Earth Resources Technology Satellites (ERTS). Cousteau’s vision was to de-code the surface of the sea to protect and wisely use marine resources.

In 1976 Cousteau produced six television programs entitled “Oasis In Space”. The intent was to publicize NASA’s Earth Resources Program. By drawing the public’s attention to issues that could now be monitored from space, e.g. pollution, population, food shortages, energy and water quality, he messaged that man can now better manage the quality of life on earth.

Cousteau’s early work with NASA and its ERTS program, now known as Landsat, helped man graduate from traditional earth-based inferred measurements to a vital space-based platform that to this day collects priceless data from its elevated vantage point.

The value we can derive from our now four-decade accurate data set enables earthlings to make better, objective, confident and responsible decisions.

As the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference nears its close in Paris, let us not overlook the value of data nor the words of the Frenchman, Captain Cousteau, who said, “Images, computers and data banks can only give us the information; they can not tell us what to do with it.”


Entire Contents © Richard E. Hyman

Follow Richard @frogmenwww.richardehyman.com


[1] On January 30, 1975, the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary was designated as the first U.S. national marine sanctuary. Today, there are 14 federally designated underwater areas managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


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