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Oceanography in 2025

Walter Munk*


Let me start with a backward look. What are the important developments in physical oceanography in the last few decades? I would rank as foremost: (i) mesoscale dynamics, the recognition of ocean “weather” and its implication to ocean modeling, (ii) satellite remote sensing.

I consider TOPEX/Poseidon the most successful ocean mission ever. It has served to solve dozens of ocean problems that were previously not understood. Yet when John Apel came to Scripps to sell us on a satellite altimetry mission, there was scant interest. He spoke to a leading oceanographer who told him: “If you gave me the data, I would not know what to do with it.” John had a similar reception in Woods Hole. Our track record for predicting important developments is not very good.

We are very short on oceanographic time series in our highly variable environment. I will predict that drifters and gliders will take over these expensive (and boring) missions.

Without wind stress the global ocean would be a stagnant pool of pollution. Yet we do not have a physical model of wind stress. I am somewhat concerned that the success and sexiness of modeling activities keep us from solving some fundamental problems. I am even more concerned that a reduced emphasis on sea-going observations will keep us from solving some fundamental problems.

We are desperately in need of observations extending over at least a century. John Colosi and I (Colosi and Munk, 2006) have recently pub-

*

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego



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OCR for page 63
Oceanography in 2025 Walter Munk* Let me start with a backward look. What are the important develop- ments in physical oceanography in the last few decades? I would rank as foremost: (i) mesoscale dynamics, the recognition of ocean “weather” and its implication to ocean modeling, (ii) satellite remote sensing. I consider TOPEX/Poseidon the most successful ocean mission ever. It has served to solve dozens of ocean problems that were previously not understood. Yet when John Apel came to Scripps to sell us on a satellite altimetry mission, there was scant interest. He spoke to a leading ocean- ographer who told him: “If you gave me the data, I would not know what to do with it.” John had a similar reception in Woods Hole. Our track record for predicting important developments is not very good. We are very short on oceanographic time series in our highly variable environment. I will predict that drifters and gliders will take over these expensive (and boring) missions. Without wind stress the global ocean would be a stagnant pool of pollution. Yet we do not have a physical model of wind stress. I am some- what concerned that the success and sexiness of modeling activities keep us from solving some fundamental problems. I am even more concerned that a reduced emphasis on sea-going observations will keep us from solving some fundamental problems. We are desperately in need of observations extending over at least a century. John Colosi and I (Colosi and Munk, 2006) have recently pub- * Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego 3

OCR for page 63
 OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 lished an analysis of the Honolulu tide gauge which goes back to impe- rial times, yet we were NOT able to detect an expected climatic drift. Too short! It is hard to request many 100-year time series by 2025, but we shall have made a start. We need to think what it takes in our society to commit for long-term observations. REFERENCE Colosi, J.A. and W. Munk. 2006. Tales of the Venerable Honolulu Tide Gauge. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 36: 967-996.