22.12.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector - IOC / World Ocean Council

Ocean industries and the scientific community join forces to monitor the ocean

© Alicia Navidad, CSIRO, AustraliaSince the program began 10 years ago, 3000 Argo profiling floats such as this one, deployed off the R/V Southern Surveyor, have provided oceanographers with a three-dimensional view of the water column down to 2 km.

A single, contiguous body of water encircles the globe, covering 70% of its surface. From the Arctic ice through the warm equatorial waters to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current all the Earth's oceans, seas, bays and inlets are connected. They form one body of water, the one Global Ocean. Its health and the wellbeing of humanity and the living environment that sustains us all are inextricably linked. Yet critical physical processes are poorly understood and ecosystems remain unstudied and undiscovered. This lack of knowledge thwarts efforts to detect, predict or manage the interrelated physical, biological and social impacts of climate change, making sustainable development almost impossible.

The impetus for the creation of a coordinated observing system to provide baseline data and ensure sustained monitoring came from IOC in the late 1980s and resulted in the creating of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) in 1991. The Global Ocean Observing System is the overarching coordination tool for a variety of observation systems including many partners. These vary from a few buoys operated by a research lab, to intergovernmental cooperation which organizes globe spanning efforts, with a great range of objectives and applications.

One such application is understanding and predicting weather and climate. Global efforts to collect and analyze scientific data also allow for the development of the predictive capacity for climate change and the ocean responses, and provide scientific support to governments to mitigate the losses caused by marine hazards. Several programmes contribute to these efforts, including the Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) and the Ocean Observations Panel for Climate (OOPC).

Disaster mitigation, through early tsunami warning systems, but also by quantifying the trends of typical marine hazards, including typhoons and storm surges, sea level rise, or harmful algal blooms, are critical objectives of ocean monitoring with immediate and sustainable impacts. Progammes include the Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS), regional tsunami warning systems and the Harmful Algal Bloom Programme (IOC-HAB).

The health and distribution of fish stocks can be mapped by monitoring commercial and subsistence fish harvests for fish numbers and sizes. Ocean monitoring improves the management of marine and coastal ecosystems and resources, and protects life and property on coasts and at sea.

GOOS associates these many disparate systems, integrating them so the unique data and distribution of each can become part of a greater system, creating a global view of the earth's oceans. The broad-scale global array of temperature/salinity profiling floats, known as Argo, has already grown to be a major component of the ocean observing system. Argo takes the pulse of the ocean, collecting and distributing temperature and salinity observations from a fleet of 3000 underwater robots. Deployments began in 2000 and continue today at the rate of about 800 per year.

Initiatives such as Argo have reached out to stakeholders that do not traditionally participate in scientific research in an effort to use existing marine traffic for the purpose of gathering scientific data and launching monitoring equipment. Teams participating in yacht races have collected temperature and salinity data on their route for scientific purposes and the private sector is also getting involved.

Representatives from shipping, oil and gas, marine technology and other sectors met with scientists, government agencies, and inter-governmental organizations at the first World Ocean Council (WOC)  'Smart Ocean / Smart Industries' workshop, hosted by the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) on 12-13 December 2011 in Paris. The aim was to initiate a new programme to increase and better coordinate the collecting of ocean and atmospheric information from ships and offshore structures, using existing ocean traffic.

The unique gathering attracted more than double the number of participants anticipated and sparked immediate, concrete action. Within less than 24 hours of the workshop, several participant companies offered to deploy oceanographic sensors from their vessels in areas where more data is needed.

The event was designed to develop a common understanding among ocean industries and the scientific community on voluntary observation programs, understand the key barriers to scaling up these efforts and develop the principles, roadmap and workplan for moving forward. The ultimate goal is a global program to facilitate, coordinate and ramp up the efficient, cost effective ocean and atmospheric information collection by a growing number and range of vessels and platforms.

Ocean business efforts to expand ocean, weather and climate information will improve the modeling and predictability of weather, ocean conditions and climate change, and support the responsible use of ocean space and resources – all with clear benefits for business, science, government, and society.

IOC Executive Secretary, Wendy Watson-Wright, declared that, ‘The WOC Smart Ocean / Smart Industries workshop was an unprecedented gathering of industry, government and science. The WOC has created major interest and momentum for significantly scaling up ocean and climate observations by industry through a coordinated international program. The IOC was pleased to host the initial workshop and looks forward to continuing to work closely with the WOC and its members, the scientific community and our UN agency colleagues to move this forward.

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