EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The ocean is critical to humankind and is increasingly affected by human actions: the ocean influences global climate, is threatened by pollution, overfishing, and habitat degradation. It affects human activity as it influences climate and contains unknown amounts of biological, chemical, and mineral resources, and priceless relics of our maritime past. We have much more to learn about the secrets our ocean holds and how to manage its resources in a sustainable way.

In December 2000, the United States Congress requested that the U.S. National Academies assess the feasibility and value of implementing a major, coordinated, international program of ocean exploration and discovery. The Committee on Exploration of the Seas was appointed, held a series of working meetings and a large international workshop, and is currently drafting a final report. Recognizing the widespread interest in ocean issues, intensified recently by the deliberations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Committee felt it would be helpful to issue this interim report presenting the Committee’s broad findings and recommendations. The final report, to be published in Spring 2003, will include more detailed discussion of the justification for an ocean exploration program and recommendations for implementing such a program at the national and international levels.

The Committee recommends that a long-term United States effort in ocean exploration be initiated. An ocean exploration program will provide initial observations and insights that can subsequently be used to develop the testable hypotheses typically associated with scientific research. Ideally, an ocean exploration program should complement ocean research and support a continuum of discovery, research, and new technologies.

The Committee recommends that priority should initially be given to pilot programs for which strong international interest exists, which hold promise of new discoveries or understanding, and which have substantial potential for public outreach and involvement. Initial focus areas could include Marine Biodiversity, The Polar Oceans, Marine Archaeology, Deep Water and Its Role in Climate Change, and Exploring the Ocean Through Time.

To implement the ocean exploration initiative, the Committee is considering a variety of options, one of which is creating a national program for ocean exploration to be operated by a non-governmental organization.

The United States will need international partners to achieve a truly global exploration program. To initiate a coordinated international effort, the Committee recommends the establishment of an International Global Ocean Exploration (IGOE) Committee, with initial membership drawn from the member countries of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research. The IGOE Committee should initially be supported by the national program for ocean exploration, but should evolve over time into an independent, non-governmental organization with financial support from participating nations. The IGOE Committee should develop a broad plan for international collaboration and should catalyze international cooperative efforts. In addition to this international mechanism, cooperative agreements between countries for specific pilot programs should also be pursued.



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Exploration of the Seas: Interim Report EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The ocean is critical to humankind and is increasingly affected by human actions: the ocean influences global climate, is threatened by pollution, overfishing, and habitat degradation. It affects human activity as it influences climate and contains unknown amounts of biological, chemical, and mineral resources, and priceless relics of our maritime past. We have much more to learn about the secrets our ocean holds and how to manage its resources in a sustainable way. In December 2000, the United States Congress requested that the U.S. National Academies assess the feasibility and value of implementing a major, coordinated, international program of ocean exploration and discovery. The Committee on Exploration of the Seas was appointed, held a series of working meetings and a large international workshop, and is currently drafting a final report. Recognizing the widespread interest in ocean issues, intensified recently by the deliberations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Committee felt it would be helpful to issue this interim report presenting the Committee’s broad findings and recommendations. The final report, to be published in Spring 2003, will include more detailed discussion of the justification for an ocean exploration program and recommendations for implementing such a program at the national and international levels. The Committee recommends that a long-term United States effort in ocean exploration be initiated. An ocean exploration program will provide initial observations and insights that can subsequently be used to develop the testable hypotheses typically associated with scientific research. Ideally, an ocean exploration program should complement ocean research and support a continuum of discovery, research, and new technologies. The Committee recommends that priority should initially be given to pilot programs for which strong international interest exists, which hold promise of new discoveries or understanding, and which have substantial potential for public outreach and involvement. Initial focus areas could include Marine Biodiversity, The Polar Oceans, Marine Archaeology, Deep Water and Its Role in Climate Change, and Exploring the Ocean Through Time. To implement the ocean exploration initiative, the Committee is considering a variety of options, one of which is creating a national program for ocean exploration to be operated by a non-governmental organization. The United States will need international partners to achieve a truly global exploration program. To initiate a coordinated international effort, the Committee recommends the establishment of an International Global Ocean Exploration (IGOE) Committee, with initial membership drawn from the member countries of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research. The IGOE Committee should initially be supported by the national program for ocean exploration, but should evolve over time into an independent, non-governmental organization with financial support from participating nations. The IGOE Committee should develop a broad plan for international collaboration and should catalyze international cooperative efforts. In addition to this international mechanism, cooperative agreements between countries for specific pilot programs should also be pursued.

OCR for page 1
Exploration of the Seas: Interim Report The Committee recommends that public outreach and education be integral components of the ocean exploration program. Ocean exploration provides rich images and information that easily capture the imagination of people of all ages and are readily translatable into both formal and informal educational settings. As with any large-scale, publicly funded research activity, public education should be an obligation of the exploration program, both for the benefit of the nation’s citizens, and for the long-term success of the program.