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The Australian Coastal Zone and Global Change: Research Needs

Australian Academy of Science, Becker House, Canberra. Friday 16 December 1994

Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)

Dr Neville Smith

What I would like to do today is bring some attention back to an initiative which has been bubbling away now for almost 15 years but which over the last three or four years has suddenly started to get some legs and now looks like it may actually come to fruition. It is called the Global Ocean Observing System and, in some ways, it is something that is roughly the oceanographic equivalent to what we have in meteorology. It is an attempt to make systematic, methodical and routine a lot of the activities which have taken place in oceanography, or are taking place now, for various purposes: for prediction, for monitoring and for improved understanding.

Those of you who know me will also know that I work in seasonal to interannual climate prediction and you may wonder where my connection with all this is. I came into this about four years ago working with groups looking at scientific planning for the climate part of GOOS. Since then I have become involved with the Australian planning, through the Australian GOOS Experts Subgroup and through the Joint Scientific and Technical Committee for the Global Ocean Observing System.

What I would like to do is, first, try and explain what GOOS really is, what its connection with our coastal zone is and what has been happening in Australia in recent times in respect of GOOS. Perhaps first I should point out that GOOS is not another research program. It is something which is going to build upon the years of knowledge we built up with research. It is perhaps fitting that Bob Stewart is in the audience today because the following viewgraph something that I have been using in GOOS talks over the last two or three years (Overhead 1).

Overhead 1

The GOOS Concept

Why a Global Ocean Observing System?

Paraphrasing Professor Robert Stewart (1990):

The ocean plays a key, but frequently understated role, in determining the earth's climate. There is a great promise that it may become possible to describe and predict many aspects of upper ocean behaviour with enough accuracy to improve long range weather, fisheries and coastal forecasts usefully. This promise can only be realised if appropriate data are collected regularly and disseminated promptly.

With respect to climate change, there is every reason to believe the ocean is now changing in response to past climate changes. It can be expected to change further due to anthropogenic influences. The ocean may act either to moderate or intensify these changes. It will certainly modify them.

To understand these roles we must have regular global collection of data over long periods.

I think it sets out very nicely some of the reasons why people started thinking about GOOS several years ago. It refers to the key role the oceans play in the earth's climate and also the key role they play in our environment and our everyday activities. He also points out, in that second paragraph, that whether we believe things like the enhanced greenhouse effect is going to change climate or moderate it, what we probably do believe, and can be sure of, is that it will certainly modify them. To understand these roles we must have a regular global collection of data over long periods and that really is what GOOS is all about.

Why has it taken until the 1990s for this to happen? I guess there are four main reasons. The first is that now the community of users has matured so that the services that a GOOS could provide are now useful. The second reason is that technology has evolved tremendously in oceanography over the last two decades, or several decades, not only in situ devices like floats and autonomous vehicles, but also satellites. The third is that our understanding has increased enormously over the last decades through large research programs run by, for example, the IGBP. The fourth factor, I think, is computing - we now have the resources in computational power to do some of the things which were just not possible several years ago.

A group called the Blue Ribbon Panel for GOOS, including eminent people such as Walter Monk and John Woods, sat down some years ago to put the case for GOOS, and came up with this definition of GOOS.

OH 2: definition of Global Ocean Observing System

Overhead 2

It talks about a global ocean-observing system. The key words are that it is scientifically designed; permanent; it is international - it involves many nations; it involves analysing oceanographic observations on a consistent basis and distributing data and products. They also allude to the fact that the data that is collected will be collected in many different ways. The last sentence also suggests that the data and the data products will be available to all nations. Whether that in fact proves to be the case, I guess is still to be seen.

Dana Kester, who was working in the US on GOOS matters for several years, put together this little schematic to try and give an image of what a global ocean-observing system might look like (Overhead 3).

OH 3: hypothetical late 1990s Global Ocean Observing System

Overhead 3

He included what I guess were the gee whiz instrumentation and observational networks of that time: satellites, such as altimeters, ocean colour, sea surface temperature, moored arrays and drifting buoys. For this audience perhaps this diagram is very deficient in that it puts a lot of emphasis on the global picture and almost no emphasis at all on the coastal zones, the EEZs of all the nations. For some nations including Australia - it is also true that the perspective really should start from the nations and from what matters most to a lot of the nations, and that is their coastal zones. So, there is a lot of instrumentations and things for GOOS that this schematic really does simplify or oversimplify.

There has been a lot of planning taking place for GOOS. Again, I think it was Dana Kester who first came up with this idea of modules for GOOS.

OH 4: IOC modules

Overhead 4