Developments in ocean observing systems: aiding capacity building in marine science

Dr Pannikar Memorial Lecture, 2011
By Christopher R. Barnes, Director, NEPTUNE Canada, University of Victoria

Monday 27 June, 11:15 at UNESCO headquarters, Room II


The oceans, bounded by the atmosphere, lithosphere and shore, and covering 70% of the Earth’s surface remain a poorly understood component of the Earth system. The changing climate, ocean circulation and chemistry, and depletion of ocean life are increasing at an alarming rate, largely a consequence of human activities. There is an imperative for improved public understanding of these environmental changes, consequences and possible future options, and for the development of responsive and informed public policies that will better protect societies through this century and beyond. For successful implementation, enhanced capacity building at regional and national levels in marine science is essential. Many of these issues are particularly acute for developing nations and challenge priorities for resource allocation and international aid programs. To support future planning and policies, a more quantified scientific database is required for the ocean realm that has been unable to be established from over a century of investigations drawing on limited data from buoys, battery operated instruments and ship-based investigations.

More recently, there have been several new technological developments in or expansions of ocean observing systems as well as the development of integrated and open databases. Examples will be drawn from programs such as buoyed systems (GEO, OceanSITES, EuroSITES), of instrumented floats (Argo program), and as a particular focus of the lecture, the cabled ocean observatory networks (e.g. in Canada (NEPTUNE Canada, VENUS), US (OOI, MARS), Japan (DONET), China, Taiwan (MACHO), and the European Union (EMSO)). These now represent a new paradigm for scientific investigation: the  wiring of the ocean to transform our understanding of the Earth/ocean processes and events. Cabled observatories provide abundant power and high bandwidth communications to remotely controlled sensor networks, which in turn results in abundant real-time data and imagery over the observatories’ 25-year design life. More especially, this facilitates new multidisciplinary teams that can now investigate short and long-term events and processes and interrogate a progressively large digital database and archive using sophisticated web-based tools.

The new ocean observatories, and especially cabled ones, are yielding new knowledge and scientific interpretations, including: ocean/climate change, ocean acidification, recognizing and mitigating natural hazards, non-renewable and renewable natural resources, pollution effects, and ecosystem changes. Frontier challenges are considerable: new avenues of scientific inquiry, technical innovations, and maximizing educational/outreach activities. Socio-economic benefits include applications in sectors such as resources, eco-tourism, sovereignty, security, transportation, data services, and public policy. Given the vastness of the world’s oceans, the power of the Internet, the ready flow of free data, and improved international scientific programs and organizations, there is now an enhanced ability for capacity building at regional and national levels in marine science.


Professor Christopher R. Barnes, Project Director of NEPTUNE (Canada)

Chris Barnes is Director of NEPTUNE Canada (2001-), the world’s first regional cabled ocean observatory network that is part of Ocean Networks Canada. For the previous decade, he served as Director of both the Centre for Earth and Ocean Research and the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

He has a PhD in Geology from the University of Ottawa. He served as Chair of Earth Sciences both at the University of Waterloo, Ontario (1975-81) and at Memorial University of Newfoundland (1981-87); from 1987-89, he was the Director General of the Sedimentary and Marine Branch of the Geological Survey of Canada. He has served as President of the Geological Association of Canada, the Canadian Geoscience Council, and the Academy of Science of the Royal Society of Canada; and as a commissioner of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, as a member of the International Ocean Drilling Program, and on the Science Advisory Committees of EuroSITES and two Spanish ocean observatories. In 1996, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada.

N.K. Panikkar Memorial Lecture Series

The Panikkar Memorial Lecture Series is dedicated to the memory of the noted Indian oceanographer Dr N.K. Panikkar. Following a proposal by the German Delegation during the Eighteenth Session of the IOC Assembly (1995), which received the support of the Indian delegation, it was decided to hold a Dr Panikkar Lecture during each IOC Assembly to address capacity building in marine science issues at regional and/or national level.

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