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January 2013 Issue

A Decade of Growth Toward a Sustained And Integrated Ocean Observing System

By Zdenka Willis
Director, U.S. IOOS
Dr. Eric Lindstrom
Co-Chair, Interagency Ocean Observation Committee

Ten years after the first Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) meeting, the community met again at the first IOOS Summit in November under the leadership of the Interagency Ocean Observation Committee. The summit reviewed the past decade of progress and discussed the vision for the next 10 years.

A declaration was signed at the summit, stating that IOOS, a coordinated national, international, regional and local network of observations, modeling, data management and communications, will provide the knowledge needed by society to protect life and property, to sustain a growing economic vitality, to safeguard ecosystems and to advance quality of life for all people. Building upon progress over the past several decades, the U.S. must continue to expand, improve and sustain the system to address the growing societal needs for ocean observations and information.

U.S. Ocean Observation Platforms
The U.S. leads implementation of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), now 62 percent complete, with Argo floats providing temperature and salinity in the upper 2,000 meters of the ice-free oceans. Nationally, we have seen a doubling of coastal buoys, Physical Oceanographic Real-Time Systems (PORTS) and waves buoys; a 20 percent increase in U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges; and real-time data from NOAA's National Water Level Observation Network and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

The U.S. also has the largest network of high-frequency radars and encourages international development of similar networks. High-frequency radar surface current data support search and rescues, tsunami warnings, fisheries management and vessel tracking. Autonomous gliders are now routinely deployed to improve knowledge about the subsurface ocean environment. In-situ sensors are being installed on existing platforms to monitor ocean acidification and improve economic benefits for and from shellfish hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest.

The range of useful ocean data products from these observational platforms has increased dramatically. The products are available through informative portals customized to meet user needs, such as those from the IOOS regions. These portals provide access to thousands of data sources and regularly experience up to tenfold increases in site visits during extreme events, such as Hurricane Sandy, demonstrating they have become trusted sources of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes information.

Regional Relevance
Ocean models ranging from the global to local scales are now available. For example, the Global Real-Time Ocean Forecast System ocean model, based on the global Hybrid Coordinates Ocean Model, is part of the larger national backbone capability of ocean modeling at NOAA, developed in partnership with the U.S. Navy.

This modeling capability extends to the local level by IOOS regions. The California Regional Associations run a statewide ocean model, which contributed to the successful Orange County Sanitation District outflow diversion this past year. The Northeast Region is running the Scituate Inundation Forecast System and providing NOAA, emergency managers and others with detailed forecasts of coastal conditions, such as winds, waves and water level. And the Great Lakes region advises Ohio's Cleveland Division of Water managers on hypoxic water conditions that compromise overall water quality.

Two program milestones, called for in the IOOS legislation, were achieved in 2012: the establishment and inaugural meeting of the U.S. IOOS Advisory Committee and the completion of the Independent Cost Estimate. As part of the estimate, the 11 Regional Associations completed 10-year build-out plans, describing services and products addressing local user needs and outlining key assets required to meet the nation's greater ocean-observing needs.

Hurricane Sandy
Before, during and after Hurricane Sandy, U.S. IOOS partners—including NOAA's National Data Buoy Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NASA and the IOOS Regional Associations—provided vital information to help coastal authorities prepare for, mitigate and respond to storm tides and coastal flooding. During the storm, the Coastal Data Information Program wave-buoy network on the East Coast provided continuous, near-real-time wave observations without failure. The largest wave recorded was 47.1 feet at Block Island, Rhode Island.

The IOOS Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Regions monitored Hurricane Sandy by land and sea. While CODAR Ocean Sensors' (Mountain View, California) high-frequency radar monitored the storm, a Liquid Robotics Inc. (Sunnyvale, California) Wave Glider, Teledyne Webb Research (Falmouth, Massachusetts) Slocum Glider operated by the Mid-Atlantic Region and buoys from the University of Connecticut and the University of Maine operated by the Northeast Region helped emergency managers respond to Sandy and provided data for future use by scientists.

Federal Agency Partnerships
The National Science Foundation Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) is contributing to IOOS by enabling development and use of new tools to improve access to and use of ocean observations. OOI successfully installed seven primary nodes (or subsea terminals) on the OOI submarine cable infrastructure in the Northeast Pacific last year. Led by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and the Regional Scale Nodes group at the University of Washington, these primary nodes will allow continuous, real-time interactive science experiments at the seafloor and on moorings that extend from the seafloor to the ocean surface.

Another benefit of IOOS is the ability to integrate improvements in data from various observing experiments. For example, while not an IOOS-project, the NASA-led Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study (SPURS) tied satellite information with in-situ data as a new discipline focus on ocean salinity measurements. This demonstration project actively addresses the essential role of the ocean in the global water cycle and helps define the needs for ocean salinity measurements.

Looking Forward
The IOOS Summit confirmed that the IOOS enterprise is strengthened by its ability to integrate across observations, data management, modeling and analysis, research and development, and education and outreach. Data management efforts are on the right path and serve as a critical foundation for further integration of data and information.

The final IOOS Summit report is planned for release in February. The report will distill recommendations from the ocean-observing community leading up to and during the summit, and set the path to 2022. Expected recommendations include: enhancing focus on regional, national and global integration; developing new research and operational models; building public-private partnerships; enhancing outreach and communications strategies; incorporating additional (e.g., biological) information; and capitalizing on and integrating across existing infrastructure and activities.

The value of an integrated approach to ocean observing is already evident based on the successes of the past decade and will only increase as U.S. IOOS matures.

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