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Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop Real Time Decision Support Everywhere Nathaniel G. Plant* ASSESSMENT OF OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 Oceanography has reached a mature stage wherein we have reliable observation, modeling, and forecasting capabilities. In the next decade, we can take advantage of these capabilities to advance both scientific discovery and the societal impact of oceanographic research. Exciting scientific discoveries can be maximized by expanding the number of opportunities to compare predictions to observations: observations differ significantly from expectations when unknown processes or interactions of processes are important. The societal impact of oceanography can be maximized by increasing the availability of oceanographic knowledge to human decision-making processes. Since oceanography encompasses a wide range of temporal and spatial scales, there is a very broad “audience” for this knowledge. For instance (focusing on coastal oceanography), forecasts of wind, waves, and storm surges that impact coastal areas are already incorporated in planning decisions regarding short-term evacuations and longer-term land use. Forecasts of climate-change scenarios are now included in longer-term planning discussions. Other opportunities exist for oceanography to become a utility for daily decision making. An approach to exploiting these opportunities is through quantitatively connecting oceanographic processes with many other interrelated processes. The goal is to increase the number of opportunities to answer, “How is ocean process/variable X related to societal * Center for Coastal & Watershed Studies, United States Geological Survey
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Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop process/variable Y?” For instance, coastal water quality (i.e., sediment or nutrient load) is related to river influx. Forecasts of coastal water quality can be made using forecasts of weather (rainfall, temperature) as well as sources (amount of fertilizer sold at hardware stores?). This example is meant to suggest that oceanographers can utilize widely available, non-traditional data. Again, comparison of predictions and observations—even if they include variables that are outside the set that is typical of oceanography—will improve our understanding of predictive capabilities, increase societal impact of applied oceanography, and lead to discovery of new interactions and mechanisms. A number of challenges must be overcome in order for oceanography to reach its potential in 2025. Simultaneous prediction and observation of a diverse set of variables is required. Where are the computing platforms and sensors to support this? We live in an age of smart technology where observation, computing, and decision-making are co-located. The iPhone™ pocesses real time signals (from a GPS) and user objectives (“where is location Q?”) to provide decision guidance (“Turn left!”). What are the oceanographic analogues to this operational scenario? Autonomous vehicles apply this strategy by adapting the sampling mission to a real time analysis of the environment. Perhaps fathometers on commercial and recreational boats will sample wind, wave, depth, and temperature data that will support real time updates of environmental models. These updates will be used to make decisions. Will a fisherman’s fathometer be used to evaluate impacts of global warming? Other challenges will arise from the need to guide the responsible use of detailed and accurate oceanographic information. For example, we must usefully convey uncertainty when answering specific questions such as, “Will my house be destroyed by a hurricane?” We will need to address uncertainty with increased spatial and temporal resolution. Furthermore, attaining an ability to address important societal questions will generate new conflicts of interest and moral dilemmas. For instance, if model predictions of fish populations were 95% skillful, how do we ensure that this information is used responsibly? Sampling the ocean remains a challenge. Continuous data input and model updating can be used to determine where more information is needed to test particular hypotheses or to address applications. When operational data-assimilation programs are in place, we gain information to determine the value of observational resources and can improve deployment strategies for both research and applications. There will be continued competition for these resources, but the data-assimilation formalism exists to distribute them equitably. Finally, who will participate in the research? It will be conducted by academic institutions, industry, federal agencies, and individuals. Com-
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Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop mon communication interfaces are needed (such as Google Ocean™). Will these interfaces self-organize or have central organization? Will they support oceanographic applications that minimize the adverse impacts of climate change and major hurricanes? Will these communication tools support the education and efforts of the next generations of oceanographers? I hope so, because my prediction for 2025 is that nearly everyone will be an oceanographer! CONCLUSIONS FROM THE WORKSHOP The section above is an evaluation of the state of oceanography now and a vision for how oceanography will evolve in the next decade. The evaluation and vision were used to initiate discussions during the “Oceanography in 2025” workshop. Here, I summarize my conclusions from some of these discussions. Starting with the white papers, it was possible to identify five approaches to drive, motivate, and rationalize future investment in oceanography. We could argue that oceanography should be more focused on solving applied problems. This strategy is easy to support (see next paragraph). We could invest in increased observational capabilities. This is justifiable by itself only if there are important new phenomena to be discovered. Biology has a strong case. We could focus effort on understanding specific oceanographic processes. This is justified where improved understanding of a small set of processes has broad impact on applied problems or can lead to breakthroughs in understanding other processes (e.g., interaction of migrating organisms with acoustics). We could focus investment in developing oceanographic technology. This approach is hard to argue on its own (build it and they will come?) but it is certainly a key component of future oceanographic investment. We could emphasize exploitation of numerical models. This is defended by arguing that past investment has given us skillful capabilities that can and should be used more widely. All of these approaches will be used in the future. However, it may be necessary to choose one to be a primary driver that is used to organize and support the need for other components. A primary conclusion from the workshop was that an increased focus on applied problems is necessary and inevitable for oceanography. Some pitfalls exist along this path. For example, conflicts of interest
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Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop may result when major policy decisions depend on interpretations of uncertain scientific knowledge. An increase in applied oceanography will require resources to be spent to support operational activities—perhaps at the expense of scientific missions. And, more effort will be required to communicate applied problems to researchers (RADM Titley attempted this at the workshop, Figure 1). It is likely that the pitfalls associated with increasing applied emphasis will be outweighed by benefits. For instance, we can expect that increased applied efforts would lead to overall increases in oceanographic funding, broader visibility of oceanography as a societal utility, increased attractiveness to the next generation of oceanographers who want to have a societal impact, and increased probability of identifying knowledge gaps and new science directions. A secondary conclusion from the workshop was that broad application of “state of the art” oceanographic technology is at risk because the knowledge required to make it work is isolated in a small number of technicians. Research programs, both at individual institutions as well as at a national level, are at risk if this knowledge cannot be transferred. Development efforts using web groups (wiki pages) might help address this issue. Also, we discovered that high-impact topics (climate change, energy) were not interesting enough to the assembled oceanographers to warrant intense discussion at the workshop. Why? A likely answer is that these topics are too broad to be addressed by oceanographers alone. Per- FIGURE 1 Applied oceanography. The flow chart on the right represents the organizational framework used by the NAVO. Clear communication of the role played by technology (sensors), observations (data), and models of the environment is required in order to increase the impact of oceanographic research on solving applied problems resulting in human decisions. This figure suggests a mismatch between how a research oceanographer views applied problems compared to NAVO’s view.
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Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop haps we recognized this and deferred discussion to a time when the other required disciplines (atmospheric scientists, geologists, and engineers) are adequately represented. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Peter Howd, Hilary Stockdon, and Barbara Lidz provided valuable comments on this assessment.