Saltier, hotter, more acidic, and less diverse? Observing the future ocean

OceanObs’09: Ocean Information for Society—Sustaining the Benefits, Realizing the Potential;
Venice, Italy, 21–25 September 2009

Ten years ago, a vision of a sustained system for providing information about the global ocean was presented at OceanObs’99, the first International Conference on the Ocean Observing System for Climate. An initial ocean- observing system for marine physical climate and carbon is being implemented as a result. Many other observing activities focused on marine biological and geochemical systems also have been undertaken in the past decade. These activities collectively have proven to be fundamental to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessments, have documented profound marine variability and change, have better characterized stresses on global living marine systems, and have supported a range of forecasts and projections of the coming decades.

More than 600 participants from 36 nations attended OceanObs’09 to envision an enhanced system for the coming decade, able to meet a broader range of societal needs. Participants reviewed the state of global ocean observations, identified key observing opportunities, and illustrated the services that are being delivered. They also discussed the need for organizational structures to foster the widest range of observing and service activities and plans to take them forward.

The conference built upon many community white papers describing plans for specific activities that might be feasible over the next decade. Plenary papers presented integrated perspectives based on those white papers. More than 200 poster contributions provided details and further ideas related to future observations of the full- depth and high-latitude physical climate of the ocean, of biogeochemical changes including acidification and deoxygenation, and of the marine life and health of the ocean. The lack of coherent long- term national financing avenues was identified as a universal challenge.

All participants recognized the need to complete and sustain the initial ocean-observing system and build a more integrated system to support a wide range of climate and marine forecasts and services. In particular, the conference participants (1) set a target date of 2015 for nations to fully implement the initial physical and carbon global ocean- observing system, (2) called for support to develop systematic global biogeochemical and biological observations, guided by the outcomes of the conference, (3) called for agreement on a framework for planning and taking forward an enhanced sustained global ocean- observing system that will include new physical, biogeochemical, and biological observations while sustaining present observations, (4) urged adherence to a broad range of best practices, and (5) asked for increased effort in capacity building and education to serve all potential stakeholders.

A small postconference working group will propose an international organizational framework to facilitate a fully integrated approach to advancing the ocean- observing system over the coming decade, and to seek national support for these efforts. The conference proceedings, which will include all of the community white papers and plenary papers and other materials, are in preparation. All conference material is available on the conference Web site (, and community comments on draft plenary papers can be submitted on the site.

Harrison, D. E. & Leger, D. M., 2010. Saltier, hotter, more acidic, and less diverse? Observing the future ocean. Eos 91(3): 23. Article (subscription required).

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