Ocean engineer Grace Young’s love for the sea drives her innovative work.

For American ocean engineer Grace Young, one of the 14 world-changers named 2017 National Geographic Emerging Explorers, ocean conservation is a cause that needs to be pursued with fierce immediacy.

The Marshall Scholar from MIT is right. The ocean accounts for $1.5 trillion of the global economy every year, with the livelihood of around 10 percent of citizens worldwide dependent on it. Factors such as overfishing, acidification, pollution, and climate change are rearing their unpretty heads, making the marine ecosystem vulnerable. The world is waking up to this hard fact – the UN held its first ocean conference last year. In 2018, the Commonwealth Blue Charter on Ocean Action has been put in place to focus on actions including protecting coral reefs, handling ocean plastics, and restoring the mangrove.  

“Quite simply if we don’t know or understand the problems, we can’t fix them,” says Young. “As an ocean engineer my passion is developing technologies to be able to understand, explore and find solutions for the challenges the ocean’s ecosystem is facing.”

Young’s quest to solve challenges facing the world’s oceans is shared by many, including Hyundai at the forefront. Renowned for its sustainable policy, the South Korean automobile giant produces state-of-the-art cars with minimal carbon footprints. A stellar example is Hyundai’s Gasoline Direct Injection technology, which reduces carbon emissions by injecting fuel directly into an engine's combustion chamber.  

Currently studying for her PhD in Engineering and Zoology at the University of Oxford, Young makes it her mission to monitor many hydrosphere through her own cutting edge technical instruments. She does so through use of underwater robots and camera systems that can 3D-map coral reefs, fish populations, and document, in slow motion, underwater activity. In the works is a submarine built for manned exploration, to make underwater exploration more available, and less pricey, for fellow scientists worldwide.

Young’s PhD thesis creates 3D models of coral reefs with the use of innovative computer imaging technology. She builds models comprising of thousands of images taken on Utica, an island near Honduras, in partnership with The Hydrous, an organization that specializes in the mapping of coral reefs.

Born and bred in Ohio, Young acquired her passion for water when she was just a kid. Her work for ocean conservation started young. When she was a student in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering at MIT, she contributed to developing underwater robots to 3D-map ice shelves, for observing the health of fisheries located in areas of marine protection.

At MIT Young participated in her first expedition, Mission 31. Led by industry veteran Fabien Cousteau, as a tribute to his grandfather, legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, the 15 days underwater marine laboratory took place off the Florida Keys 63 feet underwater. An adventure made into a documentary, it seized slow-motion images of life under the sea that have eluded the human eye before. It is estimated that surface dive data worth two years was amassed during the mission.

“I’m excited to continue harnessing the immense potential of technology to develop ways in which we can explore the ocean, shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection,” says Young, who will keep diving deep into the ocean to unearth treasures, to keep it safe from harm.

 

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