POGO scientists want $3 billion to comprehensively monitor oceans within 10 years

Posted by Rick C. Hodgin

Washington (DC) - The Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO), and organization comprised of directors and leaders of major oceanographic institutions, has published a call to action paper.  Inside they detail the immediate need for a comprehensive, global monitoring system to track various ocean indicators, giving mankind a continuous status report on oceanic health.  They conclude that man's safety and prosperity depend on better observing the oceans.

Concerns of over-fishing, pollution, changes in acidity and salinity, as well as ocean currents, have prompted a significant proposal to be drafted.  These include a wide array of measures, like diving robotic probes, unmanned vehicles and research vessels, innovative sonar, tags, moored buoys, cabled observatories, satellites and climate and ocean acidity testing as well as a host of educational programs.  D. James Baker, former Administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says: "We have pathetically few measurements of the oceans relative to their importance to life on Earth and the extent to which we rely on them for energy, weather, food and recreation."  71% of the Earth's surface is covered by oceans.  More than 90% of globally traded goods are transported on our oceans.

A meeting between the 71 member nations of the Group on Earth Observation will take place in Cape Town, South Africa.  The meeting "will review progress and map out next steps in a 10-year effort to build a ground-based, ocean-drifting, air-borne and space-based Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to monitor all of Earth's environmental conditions."  The project is expected to cost between $2 and $3 billion.

Dr. Tony Haymet, Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, USA, and Chair of POGO's Executive Committee, said, "A continuous, integrated ocean observing system will return the investment many times over in safer maritime operations, storm damage mitigation, and conservation of living marine resources, as well as collecting the vital signs of the ocean that are needed to monitor climate change."

The breakdown of the up to $3 billion expenditure includes:
(1) a stable network of satellites surveying vast extents of the surface of the oceans
(2) fixed stations taking continuous measurements on the seafloor or as floats and buoys moored in the water column and at the surface
(3) small robot submarine ocean monitors, some drifting with the currents, others motoring along programmed routes
(4) marine animals ingeniously outfitted with electronic tags that equip them to capture and transmit data about the environments they visit
(5) merchant marine and research vessels, opportunistically observing along their routes

Jesse Ausubel, CoML program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, said, "2012 will be the [100 year anniversary] of the sinking of the Titanic.  I think Captain Smith would be disappointed by the continuing hesitation to firm up our ocean observing system."