AtlantOS: Who Will Know the Ocean?

A new effort is getting underway to monitor and understand one of the least explored regions on Earth: the Atlantic Ocean, from pole-to-pole and from the surface waters to the bottom of the deepest trenches.

A blue button jellyfish, Porpita porpita. This tiny creature (15 mm across) was photographed off the coast of West Africa during a research expedition aboard the vessel METEOR. Image Credit: Uwe Piatkowski, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany

A blue button jellyfish, Porpita porpita. This tiny creature (15 mm across) was photographed off the coast of West Africa during a research expedition aboard the vessel METEOR. Image Credit: Uwe Piatkowski, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany

Ocean researchers have learned much since the American biologist Rachel Carson observed in 1937: “Who has known the ocean? Neither you nor I.”  But, says oceanographer Martin Visbeck, “a lot of measurements are still made on a short-term base or are restricted to a single issue. The data is not necessarily compatible with other measurements and, in some cases, not freely available.”

That may be about to change, according to Visbeck, a professor at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, thanks to a new and ambitious program named AtlantOS. (The name reflects the project’s focus area — the Atlantic Ocean — plus the initials OS for Observing Systems.)

AtlantOS Director Martin Visbeck deploying a research float in the tropical Atlantic. Image Credit: GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany

AtlantOS Director Martin Visbeck deploying a research float in the tropical Atlantic. Image Credit: GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany

“I have been involved in the agenda of sustained ocean observing for more than 20 years,” Visbeck said. “AtlantOS is needed now for more coordination and innovation in order to act as a system, not as a loose federation of activities.”

AtlantOS has its origins in a high-level conference between the European Union (EU), the United States, and Canada, held in Galway, Ireland, in May 2013, as part of Horizon 2020, the largest-ever EU research and innovation program. The resulting “Galway Statement” recognized the importance of the Atlantic as a shared resource “to our citizens, prosperity, human health and well-being, adaptation to climate and other environmental change, and security.” The signatories pledged to cooperate in research and data sharing, which is where AtlantOS comes in.

“AtlantOS is one of the first major projects which aims to support this agenda,” says Visbeck, who coordinates the AtlantOS program, which is receiving 21 million euros from the EU over four years.

While it focuses on the Atlantic Ocean, AtlantOS recognizes the unity of the global ocean and is part of the larger international Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

In June 2015, representatives of the 62 AtlantOS partner organizations and 18 countries met in Brussels, Belgium, to coordinate project efforts. Based largely on that meeting, AtlantOS developed a series of work packages (WPs) containing multiple objective to accomplish each goal.

Full list of AtlantOS partner organizations (Click to enlarge).

Full list of AtlantOS partner organizations (Click to enlarge).

Visbeck calls the wide-ranging outline for AtlantOS the “first steps” in integrating ocean-observing and stake-holding communities into a strategic framework that will drive and direct the quest for knowledge of the marine environment for decades to come.

AtlantOS Work Products

For more details on the items below, visit the AtlantOS website.

1. Observing system requirements and design studies
To iteratively apply the systems design processes of the Framework for Ocean Observing to provide a refined scientific system design for an Integrated Atlantic Observing System (IAOOS) meeting societal objectives.

Specific objectives:

A. Define the high-level requirements of IAOOS based on the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) societal benefits and other international initiatives, providing a direct link to societal challenges related to the Atlantic basin and the European Blue Growth strategy.

B. Identify the gaps in existing Atlantic observing networks. This assessment will include an estimation of the cost of existing observing networks as well as the needed investments in regard to the identified gaps, and an evaluation of the readiness and feasibility of implementation of different observing technologies as guidance in systems design.

C. Deliver guidance to improve existing elements and/or implement new components of the IAOOS using Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSEs) and data assimilation to optimally merge in-situ and satellite observations with models.

2. Enhancement of ship-based observing networks
To improve, expand, integrate and innovate ship-based observations undertaken by existing observing networks.

Specific objectives:

A. Expand present spatial coverage of the Global Ocean Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Programme (GO-SHIP), in particular in the South Atlantic, by working with other hydrographic efforts but ensure GO-SHIP data collection and handling standards.

B. Improve the coherence and coordination, coverage, quality, timeliness and data flow from the existing, currently uncoordinated Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP) networks.

C. Optimize and enhance the global Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey network. The CPR is an autonomous instrument mainly towed from ships of opportunity that has been in use for more than 80 years.

D. Optimize fisheries and zooplankton observations and data availability through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) data center for three key pelagic fisheries surveys; to prepare the ICES data center to host these data in accordance with ICES and international data standards and to modify current processing and analysis software to fit into the new system.

E. Integrate the European deep seafloor mapping results in the into a seamless whole and put these results into a widely accessible format allowing immediate visualization of the seafloor for the specialist and non-specialist user alike.

The Argo array of monitoring floats. Image Credit: Argo

The Argo array of monitoring floats. Image Credit: Argo

3. Enhancement of autonomous observing networks
To build on existing capacities for autonomous observing networks on both sides of the Atlantic. It will improve the systematic collection of ocean observations recorded in-situ, and will enhance intersections with other observational systems, including remote sensing.

Specific objectives:

A. Expand the capabilities of Argo, an international array of more than 3,000 profiling floats that measure temperature and salinity throughout the deep global oceans, down to 2,000 meters — the single most important global in-situ observing system for the Copernicus Marine Service.

B. Address major observational gaps in biogeochemistry, emphasizing time series data will on biological Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs)  such as zooplankton, phytoplankton, particles and metagenomic diversity to assess the structure and function of the biological communities.

C. Further develop the network of Atlantic Transport Mooring Arrays (TMA) as part of an integrated Atlantic observing system.

D. Advance the use of underwater gliders to fill the observational gap with autonomous surveys between the open ocean and the coastal/shelf seas. Gliders are autonomous vehicles that convert vertical motion to horizontal motion through changes in buoyancy.

E. Make the Prediction and Research Mooring Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA) more efficient and relevant in terms of filling observational gaps. The PIRATA program, begun in 1997, is the reference network for oceanic and atmospheric observations in the Tropical Atlantic.

F. Maintain a permanent network of 1,250 drifting buoys operating throughout the world oceans.

G. Establish a European Animal Telemetry Network (EATN) by incorporating Europe into the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), a world leader in the use of acoustic telemetry that currently maintains the world’s two most extensive telemetry lines in the western Atlantic continental shelf, with coastal deployments in South Africa and Angola, and in preparation for Brazil.

4. Interfaces with coastal ocean observing systems
To link the ocean observing activities in AtlantOS to initiatives in coastal ocean observing both in Europe and across the wider Atlantic, in order to improve methodologies and best practice in sustained observing of the coastal ocean.

Specific objectives:

A. Conduct a detailed gap analysis for (a) the connection between continental shelf observing and deep ocean networks, and (b) sensors and technology required to more effectively monitor shelf seas (e.g. marine mammals, low oxygen zones).

B. Explore the feasibility of integrating existing coastal observing systems and introducing coastal profilers to partially fill the gaps.

C. Develop a comprehensive South Atlantic sea level observing site catalog (including sensors, benchmarks, maps and images).

Enhance the European Forum for Coastal Technologies and establish a formal link between the U.S Alliance for Coastal Technologies and the European Forum for Coastal Technologies.

Researchers launch a wave glider off the coast of northern Chile to detect movements and deformations of the seafloor. Image Credit: Jan Steffen, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany

Researchers launch a wave glider off the coast of northern Chile to detect movements and deformations of the seafloor. Image Credit: Jan Steffen, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany

5. Integrated regional observing systems
To use and integrate existing independent observing systems for tracking and analyzing climate change and ecosystems evolution.

Specific objectives:

A. Report on the current observing status in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre and the South Atlantic subtropical gyre, containing the results of the investigation on regional observing activities, systems, and connectivity in relation to climate and ecosystems.

B. Integrate observational data (in-situ and satellite) for exploratory product generation on a regional scale and related to climate (overturning volume-, heat-, freshwater- and carbon transport, and sea surface temperature measurements) and ecosystems (primary productivity, carbon export, and nutrient cycling).

C. Investigate the defined “optimal sampling” through the Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSE) approach on regional scales with increased resolution and an extended parameter portfolio.

6. Cross-cutting issues and emerging networks
To develop technology and observing system practices that enable multiple observing networks to produce more data that are better targeted at stakeholder, user and customer requirements while reducing overall cost.

Specific objectives:

A. Accelerate the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of sensors and instruments to address key gaps in ocean observations.

B. Develop existing centers of gravity to develop common metrology techniques and best practice for measurement of priority Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) ensuring dataset accuracy, precision and reliable intercomparisons between different technologies, laboratories, sampling locations and times.

C. Explore and develop opportunities for efficiency gain and cost reduction by sharing and coordination of ocean observing infrastructure, including ships, fixed and mobile observing systems, and calibration facilities.

D. Coordinate the development of new and emerging observational activities grouped around common platforms, observation systems and science – know in AtlantOS as networks — with an initial focus on biogeochemical networks, (meta)genomics, networks developed for industrial applications, and ocean bottom pressure recording.

Data from different observing methods must be integrated for a variety of stakeholders. Image Credit: Rita Erven, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

Data from different observing methods must be integrated for a variety of stakeholders. Image Credit: Rita Erven, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

7. Data flow and data integration
To ensure that the data sets from the different and diverse in-situ observing systems will be made readily and freely available to the wider, international ocean science community and other stakeholders by harmonizing work flows, data processing and distribution, and integrating 2 and 3 observations in existing European and other contributing international data infrastructures.

Specific objectives:

A. Harmonize data exchange and data processing procedures for the EOVs that are acquired by multiple networks.

B. To assess the impact and quantify the contributions of AtlantOS networks for the Copernicus Marine Service (this will be a key aspect for observing system sustainability issues).

C. Develop EOV synthesis products and historical data sets for ocean, carbon, ecosystem and climate research and develop a methodology to merge satellite ocean color and Bio-Argo in-situ measurements into 3-dimensional fields of ocean biological and biogeochemical EOVs.

A 1999 algae bloom off the southwest coast of England. Image Credit: Wikipedia

A 1999 algae bloom off the southwest coast of England. Image Credit: Wikipedia

8. Societal benefits from observing/information systems
To deliver a suite of products targeted at issues of societal concern in European Member States. These products will enhance the safety of coastal communities and promote economic development in key emerging marine and maritime sectors through better decision support tools and resource assessment.

Specific objectives:

A. Provide near real-time and forecast information for the aquaculture industry to mitigate the effects of Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs).

B. Define and improve methods of estimating extreme sea levels around Europe and more widely by developing a comprehensive world map of storm surge distribution (including extremes) for both tropical and extra-tropical cyclones.

C. Develop a system for ship routing risk mapping.

D. Develop a methodology for oil spill hazard mapping from major commercial shipping lines across the Atlantic and produce hazard maps to be made available to public consultation and produce on request an Oil Spill Hazard Bulletin.

E. Establish possible future sites for offshore aquaculture production, AtlantOS will gather relevant wave, current velocity and water column structure measurements from the coasts of Ireland, Norway and Spain and use these data to validate site assessment models at ca. 200 m horizontal resolution.

F. Facilitate the interaction between Emerging Ocean Countries along the Atlantic Seaboard and ocean research institutes in Europe, five to six five-month fellowships will be sponsored by the Alfred Wegener Institute.

9. System evaluation and sustainability
To establish procedures that allow for a timely and comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of the Atlantic observing system, address EOVs monitoring gaps, and provide a summary on issues that impact the sustainability of the observing systems.

Specific objectives:

A. Monitor and evaluate the current AtlantOS in-situ observing system.

B. Assess the adequacy of the observing system and its information products as implemented in the integrated Atlantic Ocean Observing System (iAOOS).

C. Develop a framework to improve the performance of existing networks, develop or test new components and seek to optimize the whole integrated observing system in a sustainable manner.

10. Engagement, Dissemination and Communication
To create a structured dialog with users of marine data, disseminate work products of 1-9, and implement communication activities.

Specific objectives:

A. Conceive and formulate a comprehensive engagement, dissemination, communication strategy for AtlantOS.

B. Gain a better understanding of how to efficiently engage with stakeholders, attract more users, and identify ways to improve usage of data and information from observatories.

C. Communicate the results of work done in 1-8 to relevant decision-making and implementation bodies, contributing to building greater awareness about ocean observatories to communities that are involved with decisions related to ocean development and management, but not necessarily directly working with observatories.

D. Analyze the economic potential associated with observatories.

E. Develop a communication strategy based on a web presence and on a social media campaign, tailored for a full range of potential users and uses.

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