‘Hydrography is Both a Science and a Technique’

7 Questions to the New Director General of the French Hydrographic Office

Chief weapons engineer Laurent Kerléguer was appointed director-general of Shom, the French hydrographic office, in July 2019. In this interview, Hydro International asks him about the latest developments regarding the world of hydrography, climate change and artificial intelligence. “It’s becoming more urgent than ever to measure the ocean.”

Laurent Kerléguer was born in Brest, France, and has always lived by – or close to – the sea. Although he never had a ‘dream job’ as a child, he always had the feeling that his career would be linked to the sea. “For me as an engineer, hydrography is the perfect combination of science and technology applied to the sea, plus a great opportunity to visit the world and survey the ocean,” he says.

He regards his appointment as director general of such a prestigious hydrographic office, which originated almost 300 years ago, (the Dépôt des Cartes et Plans de la Marine was created in 1720, Ed.) as a great honour. “This achievement is the culmination of my whole career dedicated to hydrography and oceanography in the many positions and fields of interest that Shom can offer: development, technology, operations at sea, international cooperation… and also budgets, human resources and administration in general.”

Which developments do you regard as most promising in the world of hydrography?

Hydrography is both a science and a technique. Technology has done a lot to improve our methods and efficiency over the past 300 years and since the time of the ‘hydrographic circle’. There have been major breakthroughs such as sonar, global positioning, multibeam echosounders, Lidar… and the innovations are set to continue. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are on their way to becoming a standard asset for hydrography, and we are now only just beginning to envisage what artificial intelligence (AI) will bring to our discipline. AI will improve the efficiency and speed of data processing, for example, but it may also help to assess risks and prioritize which areas to survey first. But AI is also changing navigational practices; for example, massive autonomous surface shipping will certainly create the need for hydrographic offices to develop and provide new products and services.

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