Roberta Marinelli, Executive Director of the University of Southern California Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, presented an opening reflection on the state of ocean sustainability since Our Common Journey1 was published. She noted that discussions of ocean environmental degradation in Our Common Journey focused on pollution and overfishing. However, in the subsequent 15 years, we have grappled with the effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on our ocean ecosystems, contributing to ocean acidification, ocean warming, and the melting of ice sheets. There is a critical need to learn more about the response of ocean ecosystems to these and other anthropogenic activities. The oceans are a broad and complex commons, capable of supporting a vibrant blue economy that includes food and energy production. However, lack of data and poor governance systems hamper the development of sustainable ocean use.
Steven Lohrenz, dean and professor of the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, discussed the role of oceans in global sustainability. In addition to serving as a climate and weather engine, oceans provide a variety of ecosystem services, including a depository of greenhouse gases, oxygen, and water; a critical habitat for many organisms; and a coastal safeguard from natural disasters. The multivaried role of oceans has clear implications for security, human health, marine resources, and economic benefits as indicated by the strong coupling between human population and oceans in a United Nations Environment Programme map of coastal population distributions (Figure 6-1). By providing commerce, transportation, and food supply, oceans significantly reduce poverty for many countries. Blue carbon is an emerging concept in carbon management and is the ability of oceans to sequester carbon from fossil fuel sources.
Dr. Lohrenz said that oceans are changing in many ways, including increased ocean temperature and heat content, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, habitat loss, and coastal degradation. These factors further impact ocean circulation and productivity, and reduce the ocean’s capacity for greenhouse gas uptake, with significant implications for climate regulation, sea level rise, and land ice decline. Fisheries and ecosystems are also severely degraded by anthropogenic activities. Integrated, comprehensive and sustained ocean observations can support a better understanding and management of these changes with concomitant feedbacks to sustainability. Integrated, comprehensive, and sustained ocean observations can support a better understanding and management of these changes and their implications for sustainability.
1 National Research Council (NRC). 1999. Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
SDG 14 aims to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” Dr. Lohrenz highlighted targets associated with Goal 14 that reinforce a number of ocean observation needs for sustainable development. These include prevention of ocean acidification and pollution, strengthening of marine and coastal ecosystems, improved science-based management of fish stocks, and creating more effective sea-level rise and coastal forecasting. Another goal promotes the transfer of marine technology for small island developing states or less developed countries. While this list of proposed needs is comprehensive and perhaps daunting, there are a number of approaches to accomplishing these goals.
The research of Trenberth et al. outlined what is involved with the types of integrated observation systems for long-term climate data.2, 3 The constant changing of these observation systems creates a challenge of maintaining continuity in the data. Another challenge includes maintaining the continuity of satellites and the instrumentation in the water itself over time. Few ocean time series, such as the Hawaiian Ocean Time-series, the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study, and the Carbon Retention in a Colored Ocean Time-series Program, span time periods as far back as 1950.4
Other ocean observation efforts include the UN’s Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) that coordinates the gathering of ocean and sea data on an international scale. The GOOS provides a system for processing ocean data and the analytic and prognostic environmental information that would support sustainability and other ocean science. Dr. Lohrenz explained that such integration of global measurements allows for systematic observation of large-scale patterns that can support understanding global change. A UNESCO report outlined a broad-based framework for this approach in terms of decision support.5 Research by Malone et al. detailed the data needed for
2 Trenberth, K. E., T. R. Karl, and T. W. Spence. 2002. The need for a systems approach to climate observations. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 83(11):1593.
3 Trenberth, K. E., et al. 2013. Challenges of a sustained climate observing system. In Climate Science for Serving Society, 13–50. Eds. G.R. Asrar, G.R., and Hurrell, J.W., Springer, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London.
4 Church, M. J., M. W. Lomas, and F. Muller-Karger. 2013. Sea change: Charting the course for biogeochemical ocean time-series research in a new millennium. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 93:2–15.
5 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 2012. A Framework for Ocean Observing. By the Task Team for an Integrated Framework for Sustained Ocean Observing. IOC/INF-1284 rev., doi:10.5270/OceanObs09-FOO.
Dr. Lohrenz emphasized the amount of effort, capacities, and resources needed for these observation systems by discussing the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) conducted in conjunction with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Including all data and observation needs for the various federal agencies and associated satellites, the buildout of the IOOS over the next 15 years required an estimated $54 billion. Some of the various regional Coastal Ocean Observing Systems developed buildout plans based on a process that encompassed stakeholders, decision makers, and data users, which is a useful model for providing data in a collaborative way.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Platform Requirements Working Group examined various space platforms for observation including a focus on oceans. A second iteration of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s decadal survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space is in progress. Entities partially developed an observing network for global ocean acidification, a priority for a large share of the ocean science community, and conducted research on how this network fits a societal benefit decision-making framework (Figure 6-2).
New technologies for ocean observing are improving our understanding of ocean change. Profiling floats and gliders provide information on ocean conditions for ground truthing and satellite observations. Ocean sensors have evolved to fulfill data collection tasks previously executed by water sampling and human observation with a microscope. Examples include the development of sensors to look at plankton communities at the individual species level; the creation of molecular sensors to target specific algal types such as harmful algal blooms; and the development of nutrient sensors. New technologies are increasing observational capability, efficiency and accuracy, and decreasing costs.
Nevertheless, Dr. Lohrenz said challenges remain for ocean observation, including improvements in data computation and data management. As the volume of data increases, the ability to make such data widely available and accessible to a variety of users will become a principal challenge. Examples of data management plans include the IOOS Data Management and Communication Strategy and the data management plan of the Ocean Observatories Initiative. He further explained that beyond having a large volume of usable and accessible data on ocean observations, such data would provide necessary components in the context of an integrated modeling approach. Atmospheric, terrestrial, and aquatic systems that are now being recognized as inherently linked may be beneficial to model at localized scales for decision support. One project associated with the NASA Carbon Monitoring System uses a dynamic land ecosystem model and terrestrial biogeochemical model, which encompasses a variety of different modules, to examine human activity and natural systems. An ocean circulation model within an embedded biogeochemical model couples these variables. This type of integrated modeling allows for practical observations of the linkages among atmospheric, terrestrial, and hydrologic processes, transport of materials to the coast, and their processing within the coastal zone in a coupled physical-biological sense.
Dr. Lohrenz’s final comments reiterated that gaps remain in ocean observational research, highlighting the importance of the continuity and consistency of data records. He also emphasized global integration of data as a goal and that localized regional approaches are needed for the application data in a decision-support context. These approaches would include using low-cost, efficient methodologies and innovative technologies coupled with sound data management and integrated modeling to provide decision-support products.
Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, further discussed the importance of oceans for sustainability, the direction the ocean sustainability discussion followed since publication of Our Common Journey, and additional needs for achieving ocean sustainability. Since the publication of Our Common Journey, research and sustainability work brought oceans “to the table.” Terrestrial livelihoods previously dictated most of the discussion when notions of sustainability first appeared in global discourse, and while oceans play a large role in global processes, a large share of the sustainability community did not anticipate the rapid changes that oceans experienced in the last 20 years. Additionally, ocean
6 Malone, T. C., et al. 2014. A global ocean observing system framework for sustainable development. Marine Policy 43:262–272.
7 Malone, T. C., et al. 2014. Enhancing the global ocean observing system to meet evidence based needs for the ecosystem-based management of coastal ecosystem services. Natural Resources Forum 38:168–181, doi:10.1111/1477-8947.12045.
management may require more diffuse responsibility than terrestrial ecosystem management. Though individual countries are responsible for their coastal waters, much of the ocean is considered international waters, resulting in vague frameworks for responsibility and decision making.
Dr. Leinen provided examples of progress in ocean sustainability since Our Common Journey. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change transitioned to viewing oceans as not only a climate regulator but also a large factor in the global economy, in decision-support frameworks, and in adaptation and mitigation. Current U.S. indicators largely focus on sea-level rise from water supply impacts in large cities and the influx of large storm systems such as Hurricane Sandy. Other indicators attempted to measure the aragonite saturation state of ocean acidification—one of the most difficult measurements to make in all oceanography. New instruments such as those associated with the XPrize for pH measurements exemplify the difficulty of measuring ocean acidification. For example, scientists deployed one instrument off the coast of Hawaii on Argo floats for 3 weeks of test runs, taking measurements every day in coming up from a depth of 2,000 meters. That instrument took more pH
measurements of the ocean in those weeks than during the entire World Ocean Circulation Experiment, a 10-year multination, multicrew effort. Progress has also been made regarding chlorophyll concentration in surface waters as a proxy for primary productivity and coral thermal stress.
Improvement in the development of indicators hearkens back to Our Common Journey. However, a number of needs remain, for example, an indicator on fisheries or the state of fisheries is still lacking. This reflects the differences in the ocean science community—there are blue-water oceanography groups who work on large-scale circulation problems and climate problems and then fisheries oceanography groups. Dr. Leinen remarked that the current 85 percent overexploitation rate of global fisheries will require significant attention in the future. She pointed to SDG 14’s focus on ocean life and emphasis on fisheries as an example of progress. In addition, from a disconnect between traditional academic oceanography and perceived needs, a call for a world ocean assessment has emerged and researchers responded with a gradual development of the first World Ocean Assessment. Finally, regarding bringing oceans “to the table” in discussions of sustainability, the 2015 Conference of Parties, or COP21, of the UN Framework on Climate Change in Paris added the word ocean for the first time to its working documents.
Returning to the subject of fisheries, Dr. Leinen commented that it may be time for the oceans community to reengage on the linkage between fisheries and food security—roughly 40 percent of the world population depends on fish protein. Despite the deployment of additional plant protein, projections for 2050 estimate that about three billion people will depend on seafood protein, the majority of which will constitute the poorest three billion on the planet. Emerging evidence points to commercial and artisanal fishing as unsustainable because overfishing puts traditional fishing species at risk of endangerment or extinction. The discussion now has turned to aquaculture and its substantial share in the production of the United States’ fish seafood protein. The issue of aquaculture production and management is controversial for environmental groups, businesses, and governments and is further complicated by the Department of Agriculture overseeing all aquaculture even though NOAA regulates environmental impacts of aquaculture. A new organization, Conservation X, compiles innovative ideas for large prizes in the field of conservation and recently focused on saltwater aquaculture on land, and on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Dr. Leinen remarked that modern technologies can contribute to solutions for both these issues. Already, promising research conducted outside of the United States addressed on-land, in-tank, and saltwater aquaculture. Illegal fishing and ecosystem-damaging fishing practices still occur in the ocean despite a large increase in marine-protected areas over the past 10 years.
Dr. Leinen highlighted estuaries, the Arctic, and deep sea mining as other key issues related to ocean sustainability. Nutrient pollution will exacerbate impacts on ecosystem services given that estimates project that the largest population growth will take place in urban areas, which are predominately upstream of estuaries. Our Global Estuary strives to increase observation of estuaries globally. Fishery and transportation systems will also impact the Arctic beyond the expected ice melt and shifting habitat from climate change. Deep sea mining has expanded without a formal monitoring organization and there have been minimal scientific studies on the impacts. In conclusion, Dr. Leinen emphasized that these issues only represent a sample of the existing gaps in knowledge, observations, and capacity of ocean sustainability.
In the question-and-answer session, the panelists responded to a question about the progress being made for oceans and global cooperation in monitoring, observation, and action. Dr. Leinen responded that much progress has been in observation and monitoring versus governance schemes. Despite challenges regarding management and accessibility of data, structures exist to bridge these gaps, such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Regarding governance, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not address many sustainability-related topics. Dr. Leinen said the International Maritime Organization is the only organization that has made efforts to solve these problems. Dr. Lohrenz added that the use of satellite data in international venues contributes tremendously, including data sharing and cooperation in sensor development. Additionally, discussions to develop an ocean acidification framework have shown promise and exhibit a strong international component.