28 Mar

Company Spotlight: Applied Ocean Sciences











By Phoebe Hill

Chris Verlinden, chief technology officer at Applied Ocean Sciences, has dedicated his professional career to the ocean, serving for 14 years in the Coast Guard and going on to receive a PhD in Oceanography from Scripps University. Despite his family’s passion for sailing and experiences at Boy Scout camp by the ocean, Verlinden maintains that it was not just childhood memories that drew him to the ocean, but rather the “sheer number of unanswered questions” that its vast water posed – ranging from the complicated mysteries of El Niño and the gulf stream to the more solvable concerns of illegal fishing and microplastics.

It wasn’t enough for Verlinden to study the ocean’s mysteries, the scientifically minded, down-to-business former coast guard officer wanted to solve the ocean’s greatest problems. It was this desire that motivated Verlinden and a small group of ocean experts, frustrated by slow-moving academic and government bureaucracies, to found Applied Ocean Sciences in 2019. Since the outset, AOS has worked to prevent cutting edge scientific and technological insights from lying forgotten in the pages of academic journals. Instead, the company connects who Verlinden calls “people who are doing good things for the ocean” with the latest findings. AOS realises this mission by marrying academic rigour, military discipline, and the innovative spirit of corporate entrepreneurship to produce products that actually create tangible change.

When asked which AOS project brings him the most pride, Verlinden cited the company’s work on microplastics, an issue Verlinden sees as one of the ocean’s most frustrating. While microplastics are a well-established ecological and health threat, the scientific community is a long way from understanding where they come from, how long they stay in water, and how they move once they enter the ocean. Recognising this gap, AOS worked to design a microplastic detector, guided by an understanding that the first step to solving is “to study it more”. Navigating the process of research, design, testing and implementation in just a year and a half, the speedy innovation of Applied Ocean Science is exactly what the founding team dreamed of when they left jobs in academia and the government in 2019. AOS has managed to preserve the best of both worlds – the rigour, discipline, and scientific spirit of institutions without the red tape slowing down pace of innovation.

Beyond the novel microplastics detector, AOS is well-known for its work on ocean acoustics, which Verlinden describes as making up around “60-70%” of the company’s workload. Ocean acoustics is a fundamental field in oceanography and a vital tool in both conservation and defence. Ocean acoustics, or “the study of how sound waves propagate under water” is a unifying field in oceanography. While tools such as LiDAR and Radar have enabled the thorough mapping of the Earth’s surface, all such remote sensing tools rely on light and do not function well underwater. In order to map the seafloor, detect submarines, or even locate fish, scientists must use sound waves which travel just as well, if not better, underwater. AOS is valued for its expertise in the complicated but vital field which requires an understanding of exactly how sound wave travel changes in different temperatures, salinities, and bathymetries. Ocean acoustics is an “enabling technology “which allows all other disciplines of oceanographers to do their jobs”, Verlinden reminds, emphasising the vital importance of AOS in helping restore resilience and health to the ocean.

An employee-owned company, it is clear that AOS is powered by passion. For those looking to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Verlinden and work in the realm of oceanography, the CTO delivers surprisingly passionate advice. At first, Verlinden responsibly reminds aspirants to study the fundamentals of a field that can later be applied to ocean science, whether that be math, biology, or chemistry. However, he doesn’t understate the power of passion. “People tend to be more successful when they’re doing something they’re very interested in,” Verlinden asserts when explaining why he believes his decision to study oceanography led him to find greater success than he would have in an alternate field. In the end, Verlinden and the AOS team serve as a reminder that it is passion that brings progress.

Applied Ocean Science, powered by passion for the ocean and the latest science and technology, takes an entirely new approach to innovation and inquiry. Their creative perspective reflects the type of novel approach which will be necessary to guide humanity as we advance into an ever more uncertain world, rocked by the realities of a changing and unpredictable climate and the seemingly endless march of technological and scientific progress.