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Opportunities in Ocean Sciences: Challenges on the Horizon

Summary

As it has always been, the ocean remains a fascinating frontier for exploration and discovery. Vast regions of the ocean have only recently become accessible to scientific exploration. For example, organisms have recently been discovered in the deep ocean that are unlike any previously known. The challenges and excitement of such discoveries will undoubtedly continue. On the occasion of the International Year of the Ocean, the Ocean Studies Board has identified three broad research areas that present great opportunities for advances in the ocean sciences and will lead to concrete improvements for human life on this planet.

  • Improving the health and productivity of coastal oceans—A large fraction of the U.S. population lives, works, or plays near the coast. Marine fisheries, shipping, and recreation are major industries. A more comprehensive, basic understanding of the coastal oceans and their interaction with the land is needed that will be applicable to all coastal areas and so provide cost-effective, accurate management advice.

  • Sustaining ocean ecosystems for future generations—The ocean, from the coast out to the deepest abyss, sustains a vast, interconnected web of animal and plant life. This living system provides food and medicines, filters and transforms many human-generated substances, and affects the climate in complex ways. The effects of natural and anthropogenic change on marine ecosystems need to be evaluated and quantified to sustain, for generations, the biodiversity and productivity we increasingly depend on in the oceans.

  • Predicting climate variations over a human lifetime—Any significant change in the earth’s climate has profound impacts on agriculture, water availability, plant and animal life, and patterns of human settlement and migration. The ocean plays a central role in controlling climate through heat storage and transport and gas exchange with the atmosphere. Changes in marine life and storage of materials in sediments indirectly affect these processes. The complex interplay between climate, ocean circulation, and ocean biogeochemistry needs to be understood in the context of evidence from the past in order to predict climate fluctuations and understand their impacts.

To address these grand challenges in the ocean sciences, commitments must be made to a range of scientific tools and approaches. A combination of new technologies, better use of remote sensing and ocean drilling capabilities, and more accurate computer modelling will be needed. Enhanced, twenty-first century systems for gathering, synthesizing, conveying, and using information about the ocean and its setting will be required to usher in a new era of understanding the oceans and using this information to improve lives.

Ocean Studies Board

National Research Council

1998



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Opportunities in Ocean Sciences: Challenges on the Horizon Opportunities in Ocean Sciences: Challenges on the Horizon Summary As it has always been, the ocean remains a fascinating frontier for exploration and discovery. Vast regions of the ocean have only recently become accessible to scientific exploration. For example, organisms have recently been discovered in the deep ocean that are unlike any previously known. The challenges and excitement of such discoveries will undoubtedly continue. On the occasion of the International Year of the Ocean, the Ocean Studies Board has identified three broad research areas that present great opportunities for advances in the ocean sciences and will lead to concrete improvements for human life on this planet. Improving the health and productivity of coastal oceans—A large fraction of the U.S. population lives, works, or plays near the coast. Marine fisheries, shipping, and recreation are major industries. A more comprehensive, basic understanding of the coastal oceans and their interaction with the land is needed that will be applicable to all coastal areas and so provide cost-effective, accurate management advice. Sustaining ocean ecosystems for future generations—The ocean, from the coast out to the deepest abyss, sustains a vast, interconnected web of animal and plant life. This living system provides food and medicines, filters and transforms many human-generated substances, and affects the climate in complex ways. The effects of natural and anthropogenic change on marine ecosystems need to be evaluated and quantified to sustain, for generations, the biodiversity and productivity we increasingly depend on in the oceans. Predicting climate variations over a human lifetime—Any significant change in the earth’s climate has profound impacts on agriculture, water availability, plant and animal life, and patterns of human settlement and migration. The ocean plays a central role in controlling climate through heat storage and transport and gas exchange with the atmosphere. Changes in marine life and storage of materials in sediments indirectly affect these processes. The complex interplay between climate, ocean circulation, and ocean biogeochemistry needs to be understood in the context of evidence from the past in order to predict climate fluctuations and understand their impacts. To address these grand challenges in the ocean sciences, commitments must be made to a range of scientific tools and approaches. A combination of new technologies, better use of remote sensing and ocean drilling capabilities, and more accurate computer modelling will be needed. Enhanced, twenty-first century systems for gathering, synthesizing, conveying, and using information about the ocean and its setting will be required to usher in a new era of understanding the oceans and using this information to improve lives. Ocean Studies Board National Research Council 1998

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