Over the next decade, the field will continue to provide exciting discoveries that contribute to an understanding of Earth as an integrated system and help unravel how humankind may be altering the system. It is now essential and possible to study marine processes on a global scale. Progress in oceanography over the next decade will occur both in the traditional marine science disciplines and, significantly, at the fringes and intersections of these disciplines. Multidisciplinary approaches will lead to new discoveries regarding the ocean's role in climate change, the hydrodynamics of mid-ocean ridges, and the dynamics of coastal processes. Comprehensive study of these topics will require unprecedented levels of cooperation among scientists from numerous disciplines.
Oceanographic studies in the coming decade will focus on how ecosystems affect global cycles of important elements and how changes in the global environment affect marine ecosystems. Studies of the planktonic food web in the sunlit surface waters will advance our understanding of such diverse issues as the role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle and the sustainable yields of commercial fisheries. Studies of ecosystems at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and hydrocarbon seeps will improve theories of the conditions under which life is possible and of the origins of life. More of the ocean will be explored to estimate the extent and nature of deep-ocean vents and their importance in global cycles. Continued study of the ocean's chemistry should bring new understanding of the past state of Earth, and of how marine processes operate today. The study of deep-ocean sediment cores will provide more information about past natural cycles of Earth's climate, against which present climate fluctuations can be calibrated. A better understanding of variability of the circulation of the world ocean, which transports water from near the ocean's surface to deep oceans and back again, will improve our understanding of the variability of the transport of surface water to depth and the interactions with climate.
The foundation of oceanographic knowledge now used in making policy decisions was gained largely through investments in basic research over the past four decades. Oceanographers are privileged to participate in a science that is intellectually compelling and has immediate and long-term practical applications. Yet, the pressure for quick answers to practical questions sometimes obscures the need for investing in the improvement of basic science, which remains the key to solving long-term practical problems. Under pressure to provide immediate solutions, it is tempting for agencies whose focus is on their responsibilities for regulation