The European Marine Board launches policy brief for sustained ocean observation

The European Marine Board launches policy brief for sustained ocean observation

The European Marine Board (EMB) launched, on 17th June, its policy briefing: Sustaining in situ Ocean Observations in the Age of the Digital Ocean which highlights the critical needs and benefits of a fit-for-purpose business and funding model for systematic, sustained ocean observations on National, European and Global levels.

The Policy Brief, developed by members from the EMB including the UK’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC), focuses on key challenges impacting the ocean such as climate change, predicting extreme weather and the inclusion of the private sector in data collection. The Policy Brief calls on the need for sustained observations as a way of providing the essential data required to inform decision-makers of climate and environmental policies about the oceans and how to tackle critical marine issues.  Its central recommendation calls for the global and regional systems of subsurface, in water (in situ) ocean observations to be treated as critical data infrastructures and to be funded accordingly rather than by a succession of short-term research projects alone.

The brief also encourages greater use be made of existing infrastructures like commercial ships and offshore platforms and research ships for making continuous ocean measurements. The capital and operating costs of these platforms are already being met but the relatively small marginal costs of equipping them with sensors, maintaining them and analyzing and managing the data can nevertheless be a barrier to making greater use of them.  The report proposes consideration be given to incentives to overcome this marginal cost hurdle such as tax reliefs or as contributions towards environmental targets.

Among the brief’s other recommendations are there should be greater optimization of observing system design, more engagement with users on the information products needed for decision making and for more work to be done on the quantifying economic value of ocean observations.

Professor Ed Hill, CEO of the National Oceanography Centre and co-author of the document, said: “The challenges our ocean is facing are enormous and can no longer be effectively supported in the ad hoc way that we currently observe them”

“We need to acquire ocean data systematically and continuously in order to understand what is happening to them and inform decision making”.

“This Policy Brief calls out the need for a new business model and the innovation required to match the technology and innovations that have advanced to make sustained ocean observations technologically possible today.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ocean observations worldwide has proven that now is the time to accompany commitments to actions to more effectively manage the ocean with parallel commitment to investment for a sustained ocean observation system, providing the information needed for a healthier ocean that is needed globally. The new Policy Brief aims to inform national and European policymakers, funders, and governance influencers, like that of the G7, G20 and UN agencies such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, in the necessity on sustained ocean observations.

Dr Katy Hill, from the G7 Future of the Seas and Oceans Coordination Unit at the National Oceanography Centre and co-author of the document, added: “As we mark the start of the UN’s Ocean Decade, it is time for us to consider how to fund a backbone observing system capability as a form of infrastructure so that we can plan and develop ocean observations strategically to support sustainable ocean development”

“The observing system today is a very impressive, but fragile, volunteer effort held together by the determination of individuals around the world. More fit for purpose infrastructure funding would enable us to think strategically about how to develop and bring in new technology to the observing system, foster partnerships and engage the broad range of users.”

Professor Martin Visbeck, Head of Physical Oceanography, at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research (GEOMAR) in Germany and co-author of the document, commented: “Sustained ocean observations are critical to support ocean opportunities worldwide. They enable the improved understanding of the full ocean system and its role on climate, food security, biodiversity protection, carbon dioxide drawdown and the development and governing of a sustainable blue economy”

“Ocean Observations benefit tremendously from international cooperation in terms of sharing of infrastructures, data and information, standards, quality assessments and expansion of capabilities and capacity. In turn, ocean observing delivers critical information to a growing set of societal needs.

“It is time to listen more to science-based experts and systems to gain more reliable and sustainable operations that can deliver critical data professionally and sustainably.”

Dr George Petihakis, Researcher at the Institute of Oceanography of the Hellenic Centre of Marine Research, and one of the co-authors of the Policy Brief concluded: “The Mediterranean Sea is an ideal lab to study global ocean problems, but it is the most under sampled region in Europe. Sustained in situ Ocean Observations are needed to make the study of global ocean issues a reality.