Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ocean monitoring system 'vital to mankind'

Daily Telegraph (UK): A monitoring system for the world's oceans is vital for the future of mankind, according to an international group of scientists. They are urging support for a £1.5bn marine monitoring system to be built within 10 years. Warming seas, over-fishing and pollution pose threats which have to be constantly measured and monitored, according to the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO).

The scientists say an integrated ocean observation system would quickly pay for itself by providing early warning of storms, including tsunamis, safer maritime operations and conservation of fish stocks as well as collecting the vital signs of the ocean needed to monitor climate change. The call comes as officials from 71 countries gather in Cape Town for the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) conference.

The meeting will review progress and map out the 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. Dr Tony Haymet, Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, USA, and Chair of POGO's Executive Committee, said: "A system for ocean observing and forecasting that covers the world's oceans and their major uses can reduce growing risks, protect human interests and monitor the health of our precious oceans.

"The world community resolved to construct a comprehensive, integrated ocean observing system two decades ago. The good news is we have demonstrated that a global ocean observing system can be built, deployed and operated with available technologies. "Now we must move from experiment and proof-of-concept to routine use. We have progressed less than halfway to our initial goals. Let's complete the task before we are struck by more tsunamis or comparable calamities."

The monitoring system would involve the expansion of such systems as:

a stable network of satellites surveying vast extents of the surface of the oceans;
fixed stations taking continuous measurements on the seafloor or as floats and buoys moored in the water column and at the surface;
small robot submarine ocean monitors, some drifting with the currents, others motoring along programmed routes;
marine animals ingeniously outfitted with electronic tags that equip them to capture and transmit data about the environments they visit;

merchant marine and research vessels observing and taking measurements along their routes.

..."Oceans cover a majority of our planet - 71 per cent - yet are vastly under-sampled," said Dr Haymet. "We have an urgent need and new technological marvels available today to complete a system by which marine scientists could authoritatively diagnose and anticipate changing global ocean conditions - something akin to the system that enables meteorologists to predict weather. "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 information gleaned will improve understanding of plankton blooms, fish migrations, changing ocean conditions, climate change, underwater volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and the processes that cause them, and help warn of approaching tsunamis."

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