May 10, 2022
Conference Paper

Ocean Energy for Ocean Worlds


Energy systems generating power from ocean waves, currents, tides, and thermal and salinity gradients are being developed to power oceanographic instrumentation and autonomous vehicles in Earth’s oceans. Exploration missions enabled or extended with in-situ energy harvesting on Earth may be similar to those on extra-terrestrial ocean worlds including mapping, biogeochemical sampling, acoustic monitoring, search for building blocks of life, and physical oceanographic characterization. With the addition of ocean energy available at the point of observation, data can be collected on larger spatial and temporal scales, enabling more comprehensive missions on other worlds. Power resource characteristics (e.g. current speed, variability) will similarly need to be assessed. Earth and extra-terrestrial ocean missions share vast technical challenges including high expense, need for advanced autonomy, ability to survive in the harshest environments, and limited communications or opportunities for intervention. Marine energy systems may be the only option for in-situ generation in certain scenarios (e.g., under a thick layer of ice) or advantageous over onboard energy storage options that may interfere with the natural environment (e.g., radioisotope thermoelectric generators). This work provides an overview of existing marine energy technology pertaining to ocean observations, highlights emerging research and development and new funding and program initiatives, explores similarities in mission requirements between terrestrial and extra-terrestrial applications, and suggests innovation pathways towards enabling high-value ocean world exploration powered by ocean energy.

Published: May 10, 2022


Cavagnaro R.J., H. Spence, C. Schmaus, W. McShane, and A.E. Copping. 2021. Ocean Energy for Ocean Worlds. In Proceedings of the 17th Biennial International Conference on Engineering, Science, Construction, and Operations in Challenging Environments (Earth & Space 2021), April 19-23, 2021, VIrtual, Online, edited by P.J. van Susante and A.D. Roberts, 339-350. Reston, Virginia:American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). PNNL-SA-148709. doi:10.1061/9780784483374.034