National Academies Press: OpenBook

Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate (2017)

Chapter: 4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States

« Previous: 3 International Frameworks for the In Situ Ocean Observing System
Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
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4

Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States

The priority setting and coordination that occur internationally are structured such that funding and implementation of sustained ocean observations occurs at the national level. Within the United States, government agencies, academic institutions, and philanthropies plan, fund, and implement the U.S. share of the global observing system, as well as regional observing programs. As seen in Table 2.1, the United States is a leader in participation in global observing programs; the support of the United States is instrumental in establishing globally distributed observing programs and cooperatively building the framework for other countries to invest in the observing system, adding to the value of the U.S. investment (for an example of the U.S. role in the development of the Argo program, see Box 4.1). U.S. observing activities span the end-to-end range (described in Chapter 1), from technology development, to operations of observing programs, to global data management and analysis. While the U.S. involvement in ocean observing activities is substantial today, issues related to flat or declining funding and reduced workforce capacity are already causing U.S. leadership in ocean observations to decline and creating challenges in maintaining long-term, ocean climate observations. Continued agency-specific involvement as well as the activities of interagency bodies provide an opportunity for sustained and coordinated ocean observing in the United States, but require consistent leadership to be effective.

FEDERAL COORDINATION, PRIORITY SETTING, AND FUNDING

In the United States, climate-related ocean observations mainly come under the purview of three federal agencies: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Ad-

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

ministration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Many other agencies contribute to ocean observing, but with less emphasis on long-term observing for climate. For example, the U.S. Navy and the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR’s) investments in technology and research vessels have contributed to ocean observing capabilities. A degree of coordination is required among agencies. For example, current expansion of Argo to Biogeochemical Argo (BGC-Argo) and Deep Argo, which are being led by NSF through a proposal-driven process, involve important contributions from NOAA and NASA.

Federal activities are coordinated through a constellation of subcommittees and interagency working groups under the National Science and Technology Council (see Figure 4.1). The National Plan for Civil Earth Observations (OSTP, 2014), produced by the U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with expertise contributed by the agencies in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), addresses the value of long-term climate observations and states: “Long-time-series data derived from these observations contribute to more effective detection and diagnosis of climate change. Agencies should sustain the operations of established airborne, terrestrial, and marine observation platforms with ongoing attention to sufficient coverage and data quality.” It is difficult in this plan to identify all of the U.S. components of the ocean climate observing system, although some key components are identified by name (e.g., Argo).

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FIGURE 4.1 U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) governance structure. SOURCE: Modified from IOOC, 2017.
Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

In addition to coordination of observations through the climate-specific subcommittees, ocean observations are part of the portfolio of the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (SOST), co-chaired by representatives from NOAA, NSF, and OSTP. The SOST oversees the Interagency Ocean Observations Committee (IOOC), which was established under the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observing System (ICOOS) Act of 2009 and chartered to “advise, assist and make recommendations on matters related to ocean observations.”1 Among its responsibilities, the IOOC will “establish required observation data variables to be gathered by both Federal and non-Federal assets and identify, in consultation with regional information coordination entities, priorities for System observations.” The ICOOS Act authorized the establishment of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) to organize the ocean observing activities of 17 federal agencies, with NOAA as the lead. Part of the IOOS vision is to provide NOAA and partner agencies with “improved ecosystem and climate understanding” (NOAA, 2017b), among other programmatic goals. Federal and nonfederal contributions to IOOS are organized by NOAA in consultation with the IOOC, which conducts the activities related to IOOS planning, policy, and coordination. The United States fulfills its contributions to GOOS through IOOS. Figure 4.1 outlines the connections between the interagency coordination bodies included in IOOS.

Over a decade before the ICOOS Act, Congress passed the National Oceanographic Partnership Act in 1996 (P.L. 104-201). This legislation created the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP) and the National Ocean Research Leadership Council (NORLC; under the National Ocean Policy, the National Ocean Council assumed the responsibilities of the NORLC) to help foster coordination among federal ocean agencies, provide leadership in ocean research and education, and implement partnerships among the federal agencies, academia, industry, and other members of the ocean science community. To advise the NORLC and NOPP, the Act called for the formation of a federal advisory committee, the Ocean Research Advisory Panel (ORAP), consisting of experts in marine science and policy and related fields.

NOPP has been instrumental in advancing the ocean observing system, including coordinating NOAA and Navy initial funding for Argo, as well as multiagency funding for HYCOM (HYbrid Coordinate Ocean Model), MISST (Multi-sensor Improved Sea-Surface Temperature), ECCO (Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean), and support for sea glider development, sensors, ocean models, and ocean data assimilation systems (Lindstrom et al., 2009). NOPP provided the funding to develop the pH sensors now being built and deployed on U.S. BGC-Argo floats, thus enabling the potential for global

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1 See the Charter of the IOOC at http://www.iooc.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/IOOC-CharterSigned-02-13-13.pdf.

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

monitoring of the ocean carbon cycle. These sensors are also deployed on many coastal moorings that are part of the ocean acidification observing network.

At times, the agencies will separately or jointly seek guidance from the ocean science community on program priorities. This may be initiated to gather ideas through outreach to the community in dedicated meetings, town hall events at scientific society meetings, or through newsletters and other communications. After development of a draft plan, the agency or agencies may seek responses from the community through a public comment period. Alternatively, they may commission a review from an independent advisory committee, such as ORAP or a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) and professional societies such as the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, and the Oceanography Society also express their views on ocean priorities. There are similar opportunities to engage with advisory entities at the international level. For example, in the face of a serious decline in the capabilities of the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS) infrastructure that supports El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecasts, which has been substantially supported by the Unites States and Japan, an international commission called TPOS 2020 was constituted under the GOOS Steering Committee to review and redesign the observing system to meet present and future needs, including consideration of possible new approaches to observing.

As described in this chapter, there exist several interagency bodies with responsibilities to coordinate activities associated with ocean climate observing. Though the responsibilities and prominence of various organizations may vary over time, the committee has described the structure as it stands during the writing of the report, and those that are founded by legislation are expected to be more stable over time. A particular issue is that the committee was not able to identify any plan with associated resource requirements to sustain or expand as needed the many components of the ocean climate observing system. Although Congress has recognized the need for sustained ocean observations in the ICOOS Act, budgets are subject to the annual appropriation process and have not been matching the increasing costs of sustaining the current system in terms of workforce, infrastructure, and data management. This leaves little available for investment in new technologies and approaches. The absence of an overarching long-term (e.g., 10-year) national plan with associated resource commitments and lack of strong leadership presents a challenge for sustaining U.S. contributions to ocean observing, by inhibiting effective coordination and multiyear investments in the many components of the observing system.

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

ACTIVITIES AND INVESTMENTS

Support in the United States comes from multiple agencies, where there are different funding mechanisms and missions dictating their activities. These are addressed here for the entities involved in ocean observing.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA has funded design, development, and implementation of a large portion of the current in situ global ocean observing system in cooperation with national and international partners and through its research laboratories, long-term support of cooperative institutes housed at universities, and competitive grants programs. Through NOAA’s Climate Program Office, NOAA-funded observational systems include tide gauges, drifting buoys, tropical moored buoys (including TPOS), surface and subsurface moorings, ship-of-opportunity expendable bathythermograph probes (XBTs), Argo, GO-SHIP hydrography, and surface carbon flux surveys (NOAA, 2017a). The sustained large-scale measurements supported by these platforms are sea surface temperature and currents; ocean heat content and transport; air-sea exchanges of heat, momentum, and fresh water; sea level; and ocean carbon uptake and content. The Climate Observations Division Strategic Plan 2015-2020 (NOAA, 2015) lays out a bold vision for, “A sustained, comprehensive, and responsive global climate observing system that seamlessly delivers information and products to our partners and users within and beyond NOAA, and that provides a critical foundation for climate, weather, and environmental decision-making.”

In addition to global ocean observations, NOAA’s National Ocean Service also supports coastal observations, including those critical to the heat, carbon, and fresh water budgets, through the IOOS program office.2 These include long-term NOAA observing programs as well as observations supported by the 11 regional associations that form the coastal component of IOOS. These associations guide the development of regional observations, based in part on stakeholder input. Nonfederal funds supplement the support provided to these regional networks by NOAA. Many of these coastal and regional observing programs are critical for operational applications such as navigational safety, management of marine ecosystems, and search-and-rescue, but through their coverage, data quality, and continuity, they also have important climate applications.

As with other federal agencies, funding available to sustain global ocean observing is subject to annual appropriation and has been flat for about a decade. Flat funding for ocean observing is putting a strain on NOAA-supported systems that need to not only maintain their coverage, but to grow, such as the expansion of Argo into biogeochemical and deep ocean sampling. For example, decreasing

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2 A list of the core variables observed by the IOOS associations can be found at http://www.iooc.us/ocean-observations/variables/core-ioos-variables/.

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

deployments of Argo floats will lead to a smaller array, reducing global coverage (Durack et al., 2016).

National Science Foundation

NSF funds large-scale ocean observing programs, their development, and their instrumentation, primarily within the Geosciences directorate through two fundamentally different mechanisms: (1) principal investigator (PI)-initiated grants system similar to, but of much larger scope than, standard PI grants, and (2) the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account.

The first is the traditional NSF funding stream through peer-reviewed proposals to a given directorate. Large coordinated scientific programs may be funded in this manner following years of community discussion, project formulation, and a proposal that is fully peer reviewed. These programs can be the genesis of long-term ocean observations including methods and instrumentation. For instance, NSF supports development and implementation of new observation technologies and has funded several long-term time series (e.g., the Bermuda Atlantic Time-Series and the Hawaii Ocean Time-Series) through competitive grants. NSF also provided funding for WOCE in the 1990s, which spawned many of the modern technical approaches and sampling strategies for long-term physical and chemical observations that have evolved into sustained observing programs supported by NOAA or other agencies. In the 2000s, NSF PI-driven funding of large programs was directed toward more narrowly focused process experiments with strong ties between observations and modeling. One example of a current research project funded with this structure is the SOCCOM project, which extends Argo profiling float observations to include biogeochemical sensors and to take measurements under Antarctic sea ice. Through demonstration of the viability of the sensor technology and capability of mapping biogeochemical parameters, SOCCOM can serve as a prototype for global BGC-Argo observations. SOCCOM is formulated around modeling and thorough scientific analysis. Another example of a long-term observing program funded through a series of PI-originated proposals is the decadal repeat hydrographic survey of the global oceans, GO-SHIP, which repeats a chosen subset of the WOCE hydrographic survey. A significant difference from other NSF grants based on PI proposals is that GO-SHIP (funded by both NSF and NOAA) is funded as a data collection effort with minimal support for scientific analysis. Each funding increment has a limited duration of 6 years, with funding for data collection and archiving, setting an early example for rapid public dissemination of in situ data.

At NSF, large pieces of infrastructure have been funded using the MREFC account. These items draw on MREFC support for their design and construction, and this support comes to an end as operations begin. Examples of MREFC items in other fields include telescopes and research aircrafts and in the ocean sciences, support for research ships built by NSF has been provided, including the

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

construction of the R/V Sikuliaq ice-hardened global research vessel. An example of an MREFC-funded observing program is the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). Years of community planning, including guidance from National Research Council study committees (NRC, 2000, 2003), led to the development of a plan for a combination of cabled, coastal, and open-ocean observing arrays, with supporting infrastructure. Construction for the OOI was funded by the MREFC account, but further operations of the system must come from a division’s core funding as per current NSF policy. A decadal survey conducted by the NRC for the Division of Ocean Sciences at NSF to prioritize scientific investments identified a need to reduce investments in infrastructure that have come at the expense of core research programs, given expectations of flat or declining budgets (NRC, 2015). NSF is seeking to reduce the operating costs of OOI by restructuring its management and removing two observing arrays (NSF, 2015; Murray, 2017).

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Through NASA’s Earth Science Division, the agency has coordinated and maintained a series of dedicated ocean observing platforms for short-term operational, long-term climate, and basic science discovery purposes. NASA supports the sequence of satellite altimeters, flown since 1992 (initially TOPEX/POSEIDON, now Jason series) that provide quasi-global continuous coverage of sea surface height measurements pertaining to sea level and upper ocean currents. It also contributes to the constellation of missions measuring sea surface temperature through a series of low-orbiting satellites (Aqua/MODIS, AMSR-E, TRMM/TMI). Other Climate Continuity Missions key for sustained ocean observing include the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2; since 2014), the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE; since 2002) and its follow-on mission which measures the time-varying mass redistribution by ocean currents, and the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE; launch expected 2022) mission that will contribute to establishing a long-term chlorophyll record. Among NASA’s Foundational Missions relevant for sustained ocean observing were sea surface salinity measured by Aquarius (2011-2015). Decadal Survey Missions relevant for sustained ocean observing include ICESat (2003-2010) and its follow-on ICESat-II (launch expected 2018), measuring sea-ice properties in the polar oceans, and the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) altimetry mission (launch expected 2020).

NASA’s Earth Science Division is pursuing a strategy that aims to balance several requirements: advance Earth system science, deliver societal benefits through applications development, provide essential global spaceborne measurements in support of science and operations, complement and coordinate activities with other agencies and international partners, and develop new remote observational capabilities. Its execution strategy over the last decade has been heavily informed by the 2007 National Research Council’s report Earth Science

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

and Applications from Space, ESAS2007 (NRC, 2007) and the 2012 Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey, MA2012 (NRC, 2012a). In generating a set of consensus recommendations from the earth and environmental science communities, the ESAS2007 study laid out a new agenda for Earth observations from space with practical benefits for society.

ESAS2007 was organized along seven themes,3 with oceanography identified as a key discipline that was represented in all thematic panels. Of relevance to the present study, an urgent need was identified for renewed investment in and careful stewardship of the U.S. Earth observations enterprise. The need for contributing to long-term observational records of Earth was one of eight criteria used by the ESAS2007 panels to create relative rankings of satellite missions. ESAS2007 called for the development of a science and implementation plan by OSTP for achieving and sustaining global Earth observations for research and monitoring. This plan has taken the form of the National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, referenced earlier (OSTP, 2014).

Both reports were created in an environment of diminishing resources, and the challenges in implementing the survey’s recommendations are indicative of those facing implementation of sustained ocean observations as a whole. The MA2012 report stated that the 2007 “vision is being realized at a far slower pace than was recommended” and that “the nation’s Earth observing system is beginning a rapid decline in capability as long-running missions end and key new missions are delayed, lost, or canceled.” Failure by Congress to restore the Earth science budget to $2 billion in 2007 (FY 2006) was identified as “a principal reason for NASA’s inability to realize the mission launch cadence recommended by the survey.” Concerns about maintaining technological expertise and training the next generation of scientists and engineers were raised. The MA2012 report also pointed to potential implications for the accuracy of the nation’s weather forecasting capabilities, a concern that has since been confirmed (Kramer, 2016). GRACE-FO (a follow-on mission to the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), slated for launch in 2016 (according to MA2012) has been delayed to 2018 (OSTP, 2014), putting strains on the existing mission that is critical for quantifying land-ice contributions to global sea-level rise.

Ocean Observing Institutions

U.S. oceanographic institutions and laboratories have demonstrated significant commitment to sustained ocean observing. During a workshop held as part of the information gathering for this report, the committee heard from representatives of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) and the Woods Hole Oceano-

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3 (1) Earth science applications and societal benefits; (2) Land-use change, ecosystem dynamics, and biodiversity; (3) Weather; (4) Climate variability and change; (5) Water resources and the global hydrologic cycle; (6) Human health and security; and (7) Solid-Earth hazards, resources, and dynamics.

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

graphic Institution (WHOI), as well as from leadership from the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), representing the university and private research institutions, and the government research laboratories that conduct sustained ocean observations. The input from SIO and WHOI represented the large number of U.S. academic and private research institutions that are central to sustained ocean observations. The government laboratories hold agreements with universities, which act as cooperative institutions in accomplishing the research activities of the laboratories.

These institutions have scientific staff, including faculty members and researchers, who are key leaders in elements of the U.S. contribution to sustained ocean observing. Further, these laboratories have the key technical and engineering staff and the facilities required to support these activities. Most of the fundamental advances in ocean observing technology have come from these institutions, supported by federal and sometimes philanthropic funding. Later technical transfer to private companies supports the long-term and larger-scale production needed for a major observing system. Space and facilities have been provided in support of ocean observing at these organizations. There is also an awareness of the merit of ocean observing that is demonstrated in hiring and promotion processes at these institutions.

Philanthropy

U.S.-based and international philanthropic entities have funded or are interested in ocean research and conservation. Organizations such as the Schmidt Ocean Institute and Schmidt Family Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Packard Foundation, Vulcan Foundation, Waitt Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, and others, have made substantial investments in areas such as marine technology, ocean research, education and outreach, conservation, and exploration and discovery. Some foundation-funded activities map directly onto ocean observations relevant to understanding climate change, such as the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X-Prize to develop better and more affordable technologies to measure ocean pH and ocean acidification, and the Sloan Foundation-funded Census of Marine Life. Yet many foundations limit funding for basic research on the ocean environment or technologies, favoring instead targeted funding in support of areas such as marine conservation, ocean health, food security, and blue economy development.

Nongovernmental donor organizations have funded over $800 million for marine science in ocean and coastal waters globally since 2009.4 Such support

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4 Data obtained from http://FundingTheOcean.org/FundingMap on September 6, 2017, by filtering for “Marine Science” projects funded by all entities that are not government or governmentally linked. Data are based on user-submitted information.

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

is often limited to 3-5 years; the funds may be suitable for the development of projects but not necessarily long-term funding of operations and maintenance of observing systems. Few philanthropic organizations have provided funding to sustain long-term projects such as ocean observing activities. Some foundations have announced publicly their willingness to partner with other entities to fund large initiatives and provide additional funding opportunities for the ocean research community in the face of reduced U.S. federal ocean research and observation support (announced by Schmidt, Packard, and Moore program managers at American Geophysical Union Ocean Sciences Meeting, 2015). Discussions with the committee and between invited participants from foundations at public sessions of the committee’s meetings were encouraging and suggested that the diverse interests of the foundations could, if coordinated synergistically, provide opportunities in the ocean observing arena. Foundations that employ their own research and analysis divisions may also be able to offer guidance for structuring sustained observational programs, based on perspectives unique and different from those provided by federal agencies or members of academia.

Finding: Raising awareness of the importance and value of sustained ocean climate observations could increase support for the observing system from multiple sectors, including philanthropic organizations.

THE CHALLENGE OF SHORT-TERM FUNDING

Sustainment of ocean observations requires an ongoing source of funding, yet in the federal budget process, these investments are subject to annual review and appropriation. Continuous long-term climate datasets can be interrupted if the associated grant-making or operational government offices receive a reduction in their appropriations. Technical expertise can be lost if there is even a brief gap in funding. While the ocean research community has continually sought new and cost-saving technologies to reduce these costs—examples include ongoing work with unmanned ocean platforms and the expanded suite of observations that are being taken despite flat support—it is clear that new and expanded observations are needed to answer key research questions. There is a pressing need for more observations to support our knowledge of the global carbon budget; the BGC-Argo floats that are being deployed around the Southern Ocean as part of the SOCCOM project are one such highly effective and cost-efficient approach. In an annual appropriations process, the need for sustainment of observing capabilities must be continually justified.

Contributing further to this challenge, it is often difficult for program officials to point to a “recent” success of those aspects of the ocean observing system that are primarily intended to fill a sustained monitoring role. However, while the long-term nature of climate observing means that many results take time to appear, there are still numerous examples of vital information provided by the

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

ocean observing system. The ocean observing system has already contributed to the understanding of the changing climate (see the examples related to heat, carbon, and fresh water in Chapter 2), as well as of more short-term subseasonal and seasonal predictions (NASEM, 2016b). The increasing cost-efficiency of the system due to technological progress, and the added value provided by participating in an international network of platforms also can be used to illustrate the strong return on investment of the system.

Finding: The continuity of ocean observations is essential for gaining an accurate understanding of the climate. Funding mechanisms that rely on annual budget approval or short-term grants may result in discontinuity of ocean climate measurements, reducing the value of the observations made to date and in the future.

OBSERVING SYSTEM OPERATIONS

The in situ ocean observing system is mainly operated by research institutions and the relevant experts therein. The key to maintaining climate-quality, long-term observing system elements is with this direct involvement by the researchers in all steps. This includes conducting the science, and providing oversight, including, where possible, actual operations of the observing system programs. Research institutions and their funding sources place a high priority on peer-reviewed, original research, necessitating useful and high-quality observations. The observing system elements with deep roots in research laboratories, led by scientists who conduct observations and utilize the data from the observing system, have demonstrably high success. An example of leadership of scientific teams in an observing program is the development of the Argo program led by the Argo Science Team, described in Box 4.1. The most expensive part of the ocean observing system, satellite remote sensing, is operated by NASA. Nevertheless, the success of the NASA missions includes reliance on strong scientific involvement from beginning to end of a mission, with long-term academic science teams and in-house expert scientific staff.

Finding: Direct scientific involvement in sustained observing programs, from design to implementation to analysis, synthesis, and publication, ensures that the ocean observing system will be robust in terms of data quality, incorporation of new methods and technologies, and scientific analyses; all are essential elements for realizing the value of long-term, sustained observations.

By being based in research and academic laboratories, each ocean observing effort has committed engagement by the same core group of scientists and technicians through much of the end-to-end process. For example, those who have developed mooring technology and the means to design moorings to sur-

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

vive harsh environments are also involved in deployment and maintenance of moorings and moored arrays. And those who have developed and/or oversee the instrumentation used on the moorings are in the same group. Data processors are also collocated with the team, fostering strong coherence among the groups and ensuring that observational requirements are met or exceeded. A further benefit is that through scientific analysis of the data, those in the group see immediately the problems and shortcomings that arise in the field and in the data, and it is these staff who are best equipped to address such issues. This important benefit can be lost when observational programs are funded without including support for analysis of the data by the scientists who are responsible for obtaining it.

Finding: To avoid data gaps and ensure the required data quality and the accessibility of the data for monitoring climate over decades, ocean observing initiatives will need to plan for the end-to-end scope of expenses associated with observing programs, including appropriate logistical planning and all processing including data analysis, data management, and scientific involvement.

CHALLENGES SUSTAINING THE OCEAN OBSERVING WORKFORCE

The U.S. ocean observing suite of activities depends on both institutional and individual expertise and commitment. For individual scientists, starting up and implementing an ocean observation activity is time-consuming and may be difficult without substantial institutional support and guarantees for long-term funding. By its very nature, observational science typically requires some years of data collection before results are publishable. This acts as a disincentive for early-career scientists contemplating participation in ocean observing activities beyond utilization of existing datasets. This leads to the concept of ocean observing “heroes”—those individuals who have the interest and ability to design and implement effective and valuable ocean observing programs and choose to do so as a service to science and the community. Typically, these individuals are later in their careers and in positions that allow them to engage in activities with long, or even uncertain, payoff timelines. The current ocean observing arrays owe their existence to a large number of such heroes, yet many of these thought leaders and creators are now reaching advanced stages of their careers or have already retired. This poses challenges for sustaining ocean observations as we look ahead several decades and beyond. The committee heard from community members that the current demographics of ocean observing experts cannot sustain long-term operations. Transformation of today’s cohort of ocean observing experts to one with more balanced career demographics is essential for sustaining ocean observations long term.

The long-term investment required to develop and sustain the necessary

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

expert workforce of the future is a challenge due to limited professional rewards or career incentives at major institutions and laboratories to ensure intergenerational succession of scientists, engineers, and technical staff. Traditional measurements of career accomplishments do not align well with the activities of scientists conducting long-term observing. For many oceanographic positions, an impressive publication record is the primary metric by which accomplishments are judged, with both quantity of publications and impact (as measured by citation counts) factoring into such evaluations. Sustaining long-term observations is not an activity that maximizes publication metrics, especially when these observations are immediately made available in public databases to be analyzed and written about by people who may not have contributed to the acquisition of these data. Making ocean data public as quickly as possible is in the interest of the community as a whole, but it is also imperative that the community recognize and reward those scientists whose efforts generated those data in the first place, if for no other reason than to ensure that this long-term data acquisition continues. By far the most important steps that could be taken to incentivize participation in sustaining long-term observations are those that lead to stable and rewarding careers.

For oceanographic institutions, incentivizing career paths that help sustain long-term observations may require a broadening of the criteria by which career accomplishments are evaluated in the United States when promotion and tenure decisions are made. These criteria could include contributions to science that derive from the collection and maintenance of the observational datasets to which a scientist has contributed. For scientific societies, this could include the creation of new awards that specifically recognize early- to mid-career scientists who make substantial contributions to society through the acquisition of sustained high-quality datasets. For scientific journals, editors, and reviewers, incentives to participate in sustaining publicly available observations will require a greater emphasis on proper citation of critical observational datasets (e.g., Argo, drifters, or moorings) when evaluating papers. Ultimately, though, funding is critical for sustaining any scientific effort, and the federal agencies’ funding decisions will play an important role in reinforcing the oceanographic institutions’ efforts to reward participation in sustaining the ocean observations that will be necessary to monitor and understand climate changes.

Scientists are also hindered by the lack of research positions that provide long-term funding stability. Federal civil service scientific positions in U.S. government laboratories have traditionally provided more stable “hard-money” funding to enable scientists to plan, implement, and oversee long-term observational projects. However, the number of such hard-money positions has declined over time. Even in federal laboratories, many positions are dependent on a large fraction of soft funding, which may vary over time, making it difficult to stably sustain long-term ocean observational networks if grant proposals are not always funded. In addition, researchers today are typically employed in multiple

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
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postdoctoral positions before securing stable long-term positions. The lack of secure career positions in the community is cultivating a culture that emphasizes high-profile, short-term results over less visible but ultimately more fundamental long-term studies. Sustained funding for the highly trained technical staff such as chemists, electronics technicians, and data processors and managers is also an issue. With intermittent funding, it is difficult to maintain experienced staff able to develop new instrumentation or laboratory analyses. Various mechanisms for providing continuity of the highly trained, small corps of technicians have been attempted, but continuity and capability of staff can be lost when budgets are decreased.

THE RESEARCH FLEET

Research vessels are indispensable to the ocean observing system, providing direct observations and deployments of moored and drifting instruments. Research vessels are categorized by their size, which dictates the range of distances they typically travel. Three categories of research vessels are useful for ocean observations: global class vessels, the largest ships which have a global range; ocean class vessels, slightly smaller and which do not travel globally; and regional class vessels, which are even smaller and operate closer to coasts. The global and ocean class ships that are essential for the most distant sustained observing system components are operated by the member universities of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), plus additional ships operated by NOAA and NSF. UNOLS is a consortium of 14 academic institutions that operate a fleet of 18 vessels constructed and owned by federal agencies. The largest UNOLS ships, the global class vessels, were built and are owned by the Navy and NSF and most of the operating costs of this fleet are paid by NSF, along with funding from the Navy and NOAA.

NOAA operates one global class research vessel, the Ronald H. Brown, which works in all oceans. It is a mainstay of mooring and float deployments, and provides up to half of U.S. ship support for GO-SHIP. In 2012, largely because of a reduction in the NOAA fleet and an inability to prioritize identification of viable ships for mooring deployments, a gap in TPOS, essential for ENSO description and forecasting, was permitted to grow (Cravatte et al., 2016). This gap resulted from decisions about NOAA fleet size and a shift in oversight of TPOS to an operational branch of NOAA and away from research laboratory oversight. As the negative consequences of the lack of observational data needed for forecasting the Earth’s most vigorous natural climate variation became apparent, the observing system was restored. However, the vulnerability of long-term monitoring was clearly revealed in this several-year episode, and stands as an example to the rest of sustained ocean observations of the need for continuous assessment of funding and scientific needs. In the recent NOAA Fleet Plan, NOAA lays out

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

a plan to build two new “Class A” ships, which are those capable of conducting “oceanographic monitoring, research, and modeling” (NOAA, 2016b).

The decreasing number of global and ocean class research vessels is creating a shortfall in the infrastructure required for sampling the global ocean and expanding collection into the polar regions. The importance of ships and the scope of the research fleet were examined in detail by the NRC in Sea Change: 2015-2025 Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences (NRC, 2015). In that report, research vessels, especially global class vessels, were identified as essential infrastructure for serving the needs of the decadal science priorities. However, as noted earlier, that report also warns against spending funds on infrastructure at the expense of basic research and recommends that NSF build no more than two new regional class vessels. As U.S. ships reach the end of their lifetime (18 of the 35 current vessels by 2030), the federal government is frequently facing a need to “right size” the fleet to fit the existing budget and meet evolving research and survey demands (NRC, 2015; IWG-FI, 2016). This means making funding decisions regarding how many new vessels of each class could be built and which ships could go out of service or be upgraded, while still providing for operation and maintenance of existing ships. Opportunities to increase efficiency and leverage capacity will be important, such as the use of autonomous observing technologies, and national and international infrastructure coordination.

IMPORTANCE OF FUNDING TO ADVANCE TECHNOLOGICAL CAPABILITY

Looking ahead, there will be the need for more sustained ocean observations and sampling of more diverse ocean variables. In the face of this need and of limitations on funding, it is essential to develop new capabilities that are as effective and efficient as possible. Investment in advancing technological capabilities will have significant return over the lifetime of sustained observing platforms.

As described in Chapter 2, the ocean is a challenging physical environment for making sustained observations, driving the need for ongoing technological advances in the platforms and sensors. The maturation of sustained ocean observing benefited from the investments of U.S. agencies in the development of ocean observing platforms and sensors. In the later part of the twentieth century, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) was a major source of support for development of ocean observing platforms and was responsible for significant progress in the United States. For example, surface moorings, with an instrumented buoy supporting an instrumented mooring line beneath and anchored to the seafloor had long proved a challenge, especially outside calm, tropical waters. ONR support for ocean engineers and physical oceanographers led to new design techniques that treat surface moorings as dynamic systems and to new surface mooring designs and hardware. ONR also supported the development of new instruments for deployment on moorings. As a result, surface mooring

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

deployments that yielded 1- to 3-month records in the 1970s are now followed by successful 1-year-long deployments of surface moorings in challenging mid- and high-latitude locations.

Both ONR and NSF historically supported research on and development of ocean sensors and instruments. Large programs in the 1980s and 1990s such as WOCE and the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere included strong observing system development efforts by U.S. scientists that helped build the foundation for today’s activities, including the GO-SHIP program. For example, NSF funding for WOCE supported the development of the climate-quality surface meteorological packages now in use on surface moorings. Advances were made in the development of acoustic Doppler current meters and profilers and of surface and profiling drifters.

The present level of investment in technological development does not match that of earlier years. ONR is a less significant source of support and the NSF is constrained by other demands and the need to reduce support for infrastructure. The limited investment in advancing technological capabilities is a challenge that, if addressed, will yield significant returns over the lifetime of sustained observing platforms through development of more robust and efficient sensors and platforms. The NOPP, under its mandate to coordinate ocean research efforts, has worked to coordinate agency investment in technological development. Philanthropic institutions have also provided support, for example, in the form of the previously mentioned Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X-Prize. Beginning in 2013, NOAA’s IOOS program has provided a small amount of funding through its Ocean Technology Transition program to bring emerging observing technologies developed by institutions of higher education, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and state, local, and tribal governments into operation.

SUSTAINED OPEN DATA

To realize the value of sustained ocean observing, the observations must be readily available to diverse users. This is essential to building user support for the investment in sustained ocean observing in the United States. The committee supports and reiterates the increasing consensus within the research and stakeholder communities to promote full and timely open data access. Open access spurs scientific discovery, innovation, and the extraction of maximum benefit from research investments. Specifically, the committee notes the Open Data in a Big Data World accord, spearheaded by the International Council for Science and adopted by four major international science organizations5 that represent more than 250 national and regional science academies and scientific unions (Science International, 2015). The accord formulates open-data responsibilities for scien-

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5 The International Council of Science, the InterAcademy Partnership, the International Social Science Council, and The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS).

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
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tists, research institutions, universities, publishers, funding agencies, professional associations, and scholarly societies. It addresses potential challenges and boundaries to openness and discusses enabling practices.

Core ocean climate data consist of measurements collected by a network of diverse in situ and remote observing platforms, which observe different parts of the ocean with different spatiotemporal sampling characteristics. The highest priority has been on data (1) quality control, (2) near-real-time dissemination, and (3) archiving. Quality control is typically performed by the individual observing program’s team, thus ensuring a high level of expertise and vested interest devoted to this process. Real-time dissemination is achieved through WMO’s Global Telecommunication System (GTS) network that is in charge of rapid collection, exchange, and distribution of observations and processed information within the framework of the World Weather Watch (WMO, 2016). For most in situ ocean observing programs, real-time dissemination is supported and coordinated by JCOMMOPS. Most countries mandate that collected data be submitted to their national data centers, such as the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI; which includes the former National Oceanographic Data Center) in the United States. NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System is a system of Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs, including PO.DAAC, the Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center) with the tasks of processing, archiving, documenting, and distributing data from NASA’s past and current Earth-observing satellites. All of these foundational centers are charged with archiving and disseminating data to the wider community.

High-quality ocean and climate records demand an extra level of maintenance in terms of quality control, calibration, drift assessment, and analysis of adequate sampling. Various studies have shown that lack of these considerations will limit the scientific utility of these datasets for climate research, in particular signal detection and attribution (Abraham et al., 2013; Karl et al., 2015; Boyer et al., 2016).

With the increase of data sources and formats, new paradigms are emerging for best practices for data and information management as well as stewardship. In this context “data” refers not only to raw observations, but also to derived data products, algorithms, software tools, workflows, and metadata. Stewardship encapsulates long-term care of valuable digital information. New cyberinfrastructure initiatives aim to provide tools that promote these paradigms based on latest available information technology. Implementation of these new frameworks using newly developed tools is challenging. Furthermore, the goal is not to duplicate efforts or generate new repositories, but to enhance and promote existing well-established (i.e., well-curated), deeply integrated, and special-purpose foundational systems, such as NCEI.

A diverse group of stakeholders representing academia, industry, funding agencies, and scholarly publishers have created a set of principles for scientific data management and stewardship (Wilkinson et al., 2016). These FAIR Guiding

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
×

Principles promote data to be findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. Beyond individual discoverability and (re)usability, the principles are essential for increased automated access and use of the data. FAIR condenses a number of previous works by efforts such as the Concept Web Alliance, the Joint Declaration of Data Citation Principles, the Core Trustworthy Data Repositories Requirements, and the Data Seal of Approval. The committee is conscious that budget restrictions may place a premium on core data collection activities, but sees substantial benefits in adapting FAIR Guiding Principles and corresponding cyberinfrastructure frameworks in the management and stewardship of the sustained ocean observing system. Similar to these principles, the American Geophysical Union has adopted the position that data should be “Credited, Preserved, Open, and Accessible” in order to help future scientists understand the Earth systems and will adopt data management best practices for their own and other journals (AGU, 2017).

As one of the foundational oceanographic and climate data repositories, NCEI states that it “has implemented numerous interoperable data technologies to enhance the discovery, understanding, and use of the vast quantities of oceanographic data in their archives. Combined, these technologies enable NODC [now NCEI] to provide access to its data holdings and products through some of the commonly-used standardized Web services.” (NOAA, 2016a). NCEI would be an appropriate entity in the United States to adopt the principles described above.

Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Sustaining Global Ocean Observations in the United States." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth's Climate. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24919.
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The ocean is an integral component of the Earth’s climate system. It covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface and acts as its primary reservoir of heat and carbon, absorbing over 90% of the surplus heat and about 30% of the carbon dioxide associated with human activities, and receiving close to 100% of fresh water lost from land ice.

With the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, the Earth’s climate is now changing more rapidly than at any time since the advent of human societies. Society will increasingly face complex decisions about how to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change such as droughts, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, species loss, changes to growing seasons, and stronger and possibly more frequent storms.

Observations play a foundational role in documenting the state and variability of components of the climate system and facilitating climate prediction and scenario development. Regular and consistent collection of ocean observations over decades to centuries would monitor the Earth’s main reservoirs of heat, carbon dioxide, and water and provides a critical record of long-term change and variability over multiple time scales. Sustained high-quality observations are also needed to test and improve climate models, which provide insights into the future climate system. Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth’s Climate considers processes for identifying priority ocean observations that will improve understanding of the Earth’s climate processes, and the challenges associated with sustaining these observations over long timeframes.

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