National Academies Press: OpenBook

Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop (2009)

Chapter: Science in Action, Episode 1: Exploring Boundaries--Meghan F. Cronin

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Suggested Citation:"Science in Action, Episode 1: Exploring Boundaries--Meghan F. Cronin." National Research Council. 2009. Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12627.
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"Science in Action, Episode 1: Exploring Boundaries--Meghan F. Cronin." National Research Council. 2009. Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12627.
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"Science in Action, Episode 1: Exploring Boundaries--Meghan F. Cronin." National Research Council. 2009. Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12627.
Page 30

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Science in Action, Episode 1: Exploring Boundaries Meghan F. Cronin* Peak oil in a warming world In 2025, oil limitation and climate change will reshape every aspect of our lives including oceanography. In addition, oceanography will be reshaped by the collapse of fisheries due to ocean acidification and over- fishing. New technologies will emerge for harvesting energy and observ- ing the oceans and numerical models that resolve eddies and fronts will become powerful enough to run for centuries. Teamwork in 2025 Oil limitation and recognition of the influence of anthropogenic CO2 on climate will limit usage of ships for oceanographic research. As a con- sequence, research will become highly leveraged. Every available plat- form (ships, buoys, drifters, floats, gliders . . .) will be multitasked to carry a suite of miniaturized sensors. Single PI fieldwork will be a distant memory. Instead, the measurements will be made by a team of scientists and will serve several communities (biogeochemical, ecosystem, physical, meteorological . . .) which had previously been independent. In 2025, the lines between these fields will become blurred and more scientists will become fluent in several disciplines. In particular, after the carbon mar- ket is put in place, everyone from Main Street to Wall Street will become versed in the ocean carbon cycle. In 2025, most oceanographic research * Seattle, WA 28

Meghan F. Cronin 29 will in some way be directed towards monitoring and better understand- ing ocean uptake of carbon. The public will be vested and interested in oceanography. Indeed, oceanography will become a bit of a team sport, with the public tuning into “Science in Action”: Humans vs. Nature. Who wins? Although there will still be those who collect and work with “raw” data, most will use gridded products that integrate data from various sources. There will be significant effort and care generating these prod- ucts, particularly since many of the products will have commercial value due to carbon cap and trade and wave energy harvesting efforts. While many of the products will be generated at national model centers, there will also be products developed at universities, governmental research laboratories, and some of the many new startup private companies focused on geophysical systems. An oceanographer could have a creative and successful career developing, improving, and maintaining these products, and would most likely be a user of the product as well as devel- oper. Most products, but not all, will be freely available. Likewise, most data collected will be made publicly available in near-real time so that it can be ingested into the products. The devil is in the details In 2001, a curiously sharp front was observed by SeaSoar measure- ments near the equator at 95°W: the transition from cold tongue to the warm water north of it was compressed into a 1-km wide region. In the intervening years between 2001 and 2025, we will find that fronts are ubiquitous and these “wall-like” fronts are relatively common. As the oceans are probed in ever more detail, more complexity will be observed. The observed and modeled frontal structures will challenge our funda- mental understanding of ocean dynamics. Basic principles such as Ekman dynamics will need to be reconsidered for frontal regions. Boundaries will be the new frontier. In 2025, most physical oceanography graduate students will be focused on boundaries caused by fronts, continental margins, and the air-sea interface. Resolving the frontal structures will pose a challenge to the observing system and numerical models. Some Argo floats will forego their park- ing depth current measurements in order to provide greater spatial and temporal resolution CTD measurements in frontal regions. Gliders will become a popular tool, with a number of universities hosting centers with “glider pilots.” The passage of fronts will be studied in the long, high- resolution time series from fixed moorings. Much of the technologies of late 20th and early 21st century, however, will have been inadequate to observe the structure in these fronts and boundaries. For example, while

30 OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 conventional drifters can observe the near-surface currents, the near- surface shear is not observed. ADCPs mounted on ships and moorings during the late 20th and early 21st centuries almost always had a blank spot in the ~20 m directly below the air-sea interface. Likewise, new tech- nologies will need to be developed to measure turbulent mixing above 20 m. This layer, where active air-sea interaction occurs, will continue to be the focus of considerable research in 2025. New technology in 2025 Sensors will become smaller and lower powered, as will our cars. Some high-powered oceanographic sensors will draw power from waves and solar panels. Wave energy will be used for oceanographic measure- ments, military installations, and will feed into the power grid for island and remote communities including Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands. Due to the expenses associated with ship time, transmission cables, and buoy maintenance, however, it is unlikely that wave energy will grow beyond these niche markets. Passive acoustic listening (PAL) technology will likely become widely used for meteorological, physical, fishery, and ecosystem studies. PAL rainfall measurements will be the robust in situ measurements used to correct biases in satellite rainfall products. There will be considerable effort made to combine the PAL wind, wave, and bubble measurements with buoy hull measurements (e.g., sea surface temperature), in order to eliminate the need for a tower for buoy measurements of air-sea transfers of heat and CO2. Relative humidity and air temperature will prove to be the most challenging aspect of the flux measurements. Thus while CO2 flux will be able to be monitored by small towerless buoys, high qual- ity heat flux measurements will still require buoys with towers. These buoys with towers will also allow many other surface and atmospheric boundary layer measurements. Reliance upon wind farms for the general power grid will lead to rapid advancements in atmospheric boundary layer technology. Flashlight-sized LIDAR systems, which measure cloud structure and wind profile with a bottom bin as low as 10 m, will become part of the standard suite of meteorological sensors for buoys and volun- tary observing ships (VOS). Golfers, mountain climbers, and sailors will impress their friends and competitors with these gadgets sold at outdoor enthusiast stores.

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On January 8 and 9, 2009, the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council, in response to a request from the Office of Naval Research, hosted the "Oceanography in 2025" workshop. The goal of the workshop was to bring together scientists, engineers, and technologists to explore future directions in oceanography, with an emphasis on physical processes. The focus centered on research and technology needs, trends, and barriers that may impact the field of oceanography over the next 16 years, and highlighted specific areas of interest: submesoscale processes, air-sea interactions, basic and applied research, instrumentation and vehicles, ocean infrastructure, and education.

To guide the white papers and drive discussions, four questions were posed to participants:

What research questions could be answered?

What will remain unanswered?

What new technologies could be developed?

How will research be conducted?

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