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Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop (2009)

Chapter: A Vision of Future Physical Oceanography Research--James J. O'Brien

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Suggested Citation:"A Vision of Future Physical Oceanography Research--James J. O'Brien." National Research Council. 2009. Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12627.
Page 68
Suggested Citation:"A Vision of Future Physical Oceanography Research--James J. O'Brien." National Research Council. 2009. Oceanography in 2025: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12627.
Page 69

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A Vision of Future Physical Oceanography Research James J. O’Brien* Despite great advances in understanding the physical ocean, I envi- sion much new knowledge to be gained in the next 25 years. Most ocean- ographers still think about steady-state balances despite all the knowl- edge about variability—whether the topic is eddies or internal waves, etc. Almost every oceanographer describes the ocean in a steady-state manner (present reader is an exception, of course). The atmosphere is heated from below, the ocean from above. In the lower atmosphere, coherent structures last a few weeks, while in the ocean, coherent structures created by internal ocean dynamics or atmo- spheric forcing lasts for months to decades. I know of only a few who understand this. This special behavior of the ocean means that blue water oceanography cannot be modeled very well without an adequate obser- vational program. How will the research be conducted? As to be expected, oceanographers will use every possible tech- nique—in situ, satellites, drifting buoys, smart flyers, etc. Oceanographers have to give up their hoarding of data, paid to be collected by the federal agencies. In addition, deployment of resources has to be done wisely by testing hypotheses and considering understanding—called “experimental design”—which is rarely used in physical oceanography. * Florida State University 68

James J. O’Brien 69 What questions will be answered? By smart folks is the answer. The entire community must begin to embrace numerical models. There is currently an obsession with climate change but extreme events are more important. For example, meteorolo- gists can predict where a hurricane can go but they cannot tell you how strong it will be tomorrow. The answer must be, at least partly, due to the lack of ocean data and understanding. This is an important oceanic problem. There are many others. What questions will remain unanswered? I don’t know. It depends on the investment made in oceanography. It is clear to me that great importance must depend on understanding the variability of the ocean. We need at least two scatterometers, but as of 2009 we cannot expect these until 2020. We need at least two altimeters, maybe four. These won’t be available soon. The first salinity satellite will not be flown until 2015.

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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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