The ocean is now becoming an integral part of an unprecedented global network of “smart” fifth-generation (5G) wireless infrastructure, according to a December 2021 report by Patricia Burke and Kate Kheel for Natural Blaze. The network of satellites, cell towers, and other infrastructure that supports 5G has “expanded to the sea in the form of the Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT), aka the Smart Ocean,” Burke and Kheel wrote.
Whereas wireless data transmissions on land and in space rely primarily on radio waves, sonar is “the go-to technology for transmitting and receiving data wirelessly in the ocean,” they wrote. “The commercial sector would use it for mining for minerals, seismic drilling for oil and gas, commercial shipping, and recreational travel,” according to Burke and Heel. Similarly, researchers are expected to use the Smart Ocean to gather data for monitoring weather, climate change, and wildlife. Military applications could include employing sonar to guide autonomous underwater vehicles and for communications and reconnaissance. “Without balance,” Burke and Kheel wrote, “the ocean will likely become a booming seabed of technology, noise, and pollution with dire consequences” for marine life. According to their report, a Smart Ocean will ultimately increase the likelihood of war and facilitate increased resource extraction and consumption.
Sonar poses threats to whales, as reported in January 2022 by the Irish Times and March 2022 by Science. Whales, which play a key role in oceanic ecosystems, rely on sound to navigate, communicate, find mates, forage, avoid predators, and defend territories. Sonar waves can disorient them and even cause deafness, brain bleeding, stranding, and death. As the Irish Times reported, climate change activists and organizations promoting safe and wise use of technology seek to inform the public about and establish oversight for military use of sonar. As the Times reported, “Naval active sonar is linked to exceptional marine mammal strandings in sources of ocean noise explored by Jonas, the research project coordinated by University College Cork.”
In December 2021, Koohan Paik-Mander reported for Socialist Project that, despite the US military’s commitments to electric vehicles and transitioning to biofuels to mitigate its role in the climate crisis, these plans ignore “the Pentagon’s continuing role in the annihilation of whales,” which play a “miraculous role” in delaying climate catastrophe. Paik-Mander’s report cited an article from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, showing that, in Paik-Mander’s words, whales enable the oceans to sequester “a whopping 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” Instead, by pursuing the development of “smart ocean” technology, including rocket launchpads, missile tracking stations and other components of “satellite-based battle,” the military’s destruction of marine life “will only accelerate in the future, hurtling Earth’s creatures to an even quicker demise than already forecast.”
Kate Kheel and Patricia Burke, “5G/EMF/RF/IOUT: An Ocean of Consciousness to Protect Our Seas,” Natural Blaze, December 27, 2021.
Mark Hilliard, “Concern over Impact of Sonar on Whales as Russia Plans Naval Exercises,” Irish Times, January 26, 2022.
Virginia Morell, “Why Whales Flee from Sonar—Sometimes to Their Death,” Science, March 21, 2022.
Koohan Paik-Mander, “Whales versus Militarism: Savoring or Destroying the World’s Climate?” Socialist Project, December 17, 2021.
Student Researcher: Jensen Giesick (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)