I'm a self-admitted technology geek, and I subscribe to a host of science-related magazines, including Technology Review, Discover, Wired, Science Daily, and Scientific America. Lately, all of these periodicals have run articles that, in one way or another, relate to the changing state of the world's oceans -- how icebergs have recently been discovered to be a vital component of the ocean's ecosystem, for example, or how jellyfish are taking over large swaths of the ocean.

What links these articles is that they all demonstrate how little we actually know about the oceans. IBM (NYSE:IBM), is now trying to address this issue in a roundabout way. In today's Technology Review, there's an insightful article explaining how Big Blue is working with the Beacon Institute to construct a network of sensors all along the Hudson River to collect a plethora of biological, physical, and chemical information.

In itself, there's nothing particularly noteworthy about a company deploying a network of sensors. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Siemens (NYSE:SI), and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have all established similar networks. What makes IBM's network unique is that it will be tied into a massive new data-analysis system that the company is also developing.

In other words, instead of just collecting huge amounts of data, Big Blue's software will examine in great detail the data it collects for patterns and trends. The analytical tools, in combination with the company's visualization technologies, will allow users to not only better understand how a multitude of factors are all influencing the river, but also create a virtual model of Hudson that can simulate its ecosystem in real time. In this way, it's hoped the system will be a useful tool for extracting information that can help resolve a variety of environmental policy and regulatory issues.

The system is expected to take a few more years to fully develop, but as the rash of recent scientific articles suggests, there's still so much we don't know about the environment around us. Equally important, we often don't fully comprehend how humankind is affecting the rivers, lakes, oceans, and ecosystems that we all depend on.

To the extent that Big Blue's comprehensive network of sensors and analytical tools can help citizens, businesses, non-profits, and governments better understand these connections, I believe it can also tap into a river of new business opportunities by helping everyone better understand what's really going on in the waters all around us.

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Microsoft and Intel are both Inside Value picks.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich owns stock in IBM. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.