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January 2012 Issue

Technology and Science in Service of
US Oceans, Coasts and Great Lakes

By Dr. John P. Holdren
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director
National Ocean Council Co-Chair

In July 2010, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13547, establishing the first National Ocean Policy in U.S. history. This executive order created the interagency National Ocean Council—consisting of representatives from federal agencies and offices with direct responsibility for the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes—to implement the policy and provide sustained, high-level and coordinated attention to these precious resources.

The policy promotes the importance of science as a core value for decision making. In support of that, an initial priority for implementation under the policy is improved ocean observations. Sound decisions require high-quality, scientifically validated information. Implementing the National Ocean Policy will demand a robust research and monitoring enterprise that provides the infrastructure, technologies and data needed to make prudent stewardship decisions and to measure the trade-offs of various options in terms of their impacts on environmental quality, jobs, the economy and national security.

Recent Advances Stemming from the Policy
With significant public input, the National Ocean Council has developed a draft implementation plan, which can be thought of as a bridge between the policy and actual actions on the ground and in the water. A draft of this plan will be available for public comment through late February at www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.

The proposed actions will collectively raise the centrality of coordinated and comprehensive ocean research and technical development by the federal government and its partners to an unprecedented level. Equally important, the plan calls for advances in fundamental science and technology to inform critical planning and decisions.

Acquiring new information for policymaking purposes will in many cases require observations made with advanced technology. For example, enhanced observations from the ocean surface and from satellites are needed to better understand prevailing trends with regard to the increasing loss of sea ice in the Arctic. Separately, an observational network of sentinel sites around the nation will be key to providing local and regional planners with projections of climate change related impacts on key species, habitats and ecosystems, and to assess the vulnerabilities of coastal communities, infrastructure and economies.

Other local and regional observation systems and mapping capabilities and products will support maritime commerce, safety at sea, weather and climate forecasts and impacts, national security and the monitoring of ecosystem health. In addition, they will provide scientific information to support emerging sustainable industries and resource uses, including renewable energy, aquaculture and biotechnology. The federal government is also committed under the plan to bolster efforts to build a diverse, ocean-literate workforce.

Collaborative Planning
A key focus of the National Ocean Policy is coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP)—a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated and transparent tool for empowering coastal communities to shape future uses of ocean and coastal environments in their regions.

CMSP is a process for implementing ecosystem-based management in which decisions about resource uses are made on the basis of a broad understanding of the environment and the interconnectedness of human activities, rather than on an atomized, sector-bysector basis. In many cases, to achieve this goal, planning decisions will require more detailed environmental information than has traditionally been available or called upon regarding, for example, bathymetry and seafloor habitats.

Initial Steps in Data Sharing
Observational data about the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes are of little value if they are not widely available and shared. As one of its first accomplishments, the National Ocean Council has established a national information and management system as a mechanism to more easily find and retrieve federal data and information for use in regional planning.

It provides a single Web-based point of entry to an interconnected system of national-, regional- and state-level portals that provide access to data andinformation relating to ocean, coastal and Great Lakes planning processes. This includes information about the myriad human activities that affect the competing uses of these resources.

The prototype portal is available at http://ocean.data.gov. Input from users will be used to further expand this system's data offerings and capabilities.

Upcoming Action
A number of other actions are on track for implementation in the next several months. For example, to understand the job-creation opportunities of the National Ocean Policy—and the benefits of those jobs for communities— the federal government will provide readily available, up-to-date economic statistics on the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes.

Separately, federal agencies will also be working together to improve coordination and clarify their roles, responsibilities and requirements for aquaculture permitting to achieve a more efficient, coordinated and consistent process that will protect the ocean environment while lessening bureaucratic burdens on applicants.

In another upcoming action, the National Ocean Council will compile information about interagency assets and platforms in the Arctic to create a marine facilities and infrastructure inventory tool that can help researchers share these assets and minimize redundancy.

And two mapping cruises will be conducted this year to collect bathymetric data for the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project and establish the full extent of the continental shelf of the United States, consistent with international law.

Protecting Marine Environments
The president has made clear through his proclamations on scientific integrity that he expects decision making in his administration will be informed by science of the highest standards. For ocean and coastal activities, this will require the use of the latest technologies to provide the observations and analyses necessary to understand the processes that define these environments. Through the National Ocean Policy, the federal government, as well as its many partners and stakeholders, will set a new, science-driven standard for maximizing the wise use of marine and Great Lakes environments while protecting those environments for generations to come.

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