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January 2011 Issue

ACT: Supporting Innovation for Better Ocean Prediction and Management

By Dr. Mario Tamburri
Executive Director
Alliance for Coastal Technologies

Our oceans are undergoing profound physical, chemical and biological changes. Rising anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases have increased ocean temperature and decreased pH, while overfishing, invasive species, habitat loss and pollution are reducing ocean biodiversity.

Ocean science and management must, therefore, evolve to better quantify, understand and predict these changes and their impacts. We must also develop strategies for adapting to changing oceans and mitigating environmental and economic impacts.

The success of all such efforts relies on accurate and reliable coastal and ocean observations of diverse physical, chemical and biological parameters, at different scales, and with high spatial and temporal resolution.

Alliance for Coastal Technologies
The Alliance for Coastal Technologies (ACT) was established by NOAA in 2001 to ensure that the tools needed for effective and efficient coastal and ocean science and management are available, to bring about fundamental changes to technology transitioning and adoption practices, and to serve as a foundation for the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). ACT pursues these goals through a three-pronged strategy: first, verification and validation of emerging and existing sensors and platforms through independent technology evaluations under laboratory and real-world conditions; second, capacity building through technology workshops that review the current state of instrumentation, build consensus on future directions and enhance communications between users and developers; and third, knowledge exchange through an information clearinghouse and technology database that connects users with technology suppliers worldwide, presenting a forum to explore instrumentation options, ultimately sharing knowledge and experience and exchanging best practices. A unifying principle among these core activities is communication, cooperation and collaboration between technology developers, manufacturers and end users.

ACT has made substantial advancements to improve the capabilities of existing operational observations and to deliver information on new innovations to address specific global environmental issues.

Since 2004, ACT has evaluated 49 sensors from 25 international companies. In total, ACT has conducted 235 tests of instrument performance in the laboratory, under a wide range of environmental conditions and deployment applications. More than 1,500 participants in ACT's 39 technology workshops have reached consensus about the state of the subject technology, defined future research and development needs, and formed a number of long-term collaborative relationships necessary to move forward.

In addition, ACT has supported and facilitated multiagency efforts to develop the IOOS National Operational Wave Observation Plan and the National Surface Current Mapping Plan syntheses of end-to-end systems in which new observation technologies are to be integrated. Finally, the ACT online technology database now connects users with more than 300 companies and more than 4,000 commercial instruments.

Tools for a Changing Ocean
ACT will continue to refine and expand core products and services and work to address changing ocean and coastal conditions.

Future plans for technology evaluations include an expanded performance demonstration of CO2 partial pressure analyzers, a performance verification of pH sensors to address issues of ocean acidification and a performance verification of hydrocarbon sensors for oil spill monitoring, response and mitigation.

ACT technology workshop topics will include technologies to quantify impacts of climate change on coastal environments; technologies for sample concentration, remote sampling and sample return; system architecture for sustained monitoring systems; and environmental sensors for port security. Finally, the ACT technology database will be expanded and integrated with the National Water Quality Monitoring Council's National Environmental Methods Index (NEMI). Through a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, the individual ACT and NEMI databases will be accessed and queried from a new Web portal—Methods of Environmental Measurement and Observation—to allow for public searches of specific environmental parameters that result in listings and documentation on both standard methods and commercial instruments to quantify the parameter of interest.

The public and private sectors have an increasing demand for accurate and reliable environmental observations, which allow for basic scientific understanding, forecasting and informed management decisions.

To meet this demand, the federal government has both established operational systems and services, which provide the basis for production and dissemination of official assessments, predictions and warnings, and supports research, technology and systems development to improve operational observation capabilities, such as higher quality data through the introduction of new or enhanced environmental sensors. By fostering the development and adoption of effective and reliable instrumentation for coastal and ocean science, monitoring and long-term environmental stewardship, ACT is a critical link between these two national priorities.

Ultimately, through the validations of new and existing technologies, ACT also provides assurance that our basic science understanding, forecasting and management decisions are based on accurate, precise and comparable observing data.

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