Why observe the ocean?
The ocean covers 71% of our planet’s surface and it plays a key role supporting human life and our economic, cultural, social and environmental wellbeing.
Ocean observations are essential for a better understanding of how society and all life on earth is affected by climate change. The analyses, forecasts and products based on ocean observations are the bedrock of decisions across a swath of socio-economic sectors at a global, regional and local level, especially in marine transportation, coastal communities, climate, agriculture and ocean health.
Ocean information is essential for weather forecasting, delivering early warning of hazards like tsunamis, storm surges and extreme waves that helps save lives and enables marine operators to remain efficient. Looking to the future, a sustainable ocean economy has the potential to be a major source of food, jobs, and energy.
But the ocean is also influenced by activities on land, ocean, atmosphere and interactions between the ocean and cryosphere. Continued ocean warming, exacerbated by ocean acidification and other factors, is projected to lead to corals and other ecosystems essential for biodiversity and food and livelihood for millions of people disappearing. Low oxygen zones are being created by deoxygenation caused by the effects of increased nutrient loads and ocean warming. Nutrient pollution is leading to harmful algal blooms that devastate marine biodiversity and pose a significant risk to human health.
We’re also aware of how much we don’t know about the ocean. To improve our knowledge and to better meet expanding societal needs, the ocean observing community is introducing new technologies and improved capabilities. These advancements will provide more observational information in real-time and long duration high-quality data needed for detection of ocean change, as well as help to address the lack of data in poorly sampled regions.
As the global population is set to reach more than 9 billion people by 2050, impacts on the ocean associated with human activities will only escalate. Understanding the variability of the ocean and the related impacts on our society, through sustained ocean observations and ocean science, will be of vital importance for the benefit of the nature and humankind.
One of the United Nations Ocean Decade Challenges is to ensure a sustainable ocean observing system that delivers timely data and information accessible to all users on the state of the ocean across all ocean basins in recognition of the fundamental importance of observations to the success of the Decade. The global ocean observing networks will play an important role in achieving this goal over the next decade.
How do we observe the ocean?
Currently, about 10,000 in situ observing instruments, including networks of autonomous profiling floats, drifting and fixed buoys, piloted underwater robots, ships, sea level tide gauges, and even marine mammals, monitor the global ocean and measure its main physical and biogeochemical parameters, for several applications, such as climate studies, forecasts and early warnings, and marine ecosystems health monitoring.
In situ observing instruments measure many environmental parameters from the sea surface to the sea floor, providing essential calibration and validation data for satellite observations of the sea surface. These in situ observational platforms also measure surface marine meteorological variables and sample the water column, that cannot be measured by satellites.