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January 2011 Issue

U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System:
Partnership Serving Lives and Livelihoods

By Zdenka Willis
U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System

The U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) partnership includes federal, regional, academic, nongovernmental organizations and industry parties that provide data and information to improve the understanding and management of our oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.

The last several years have seen some very positive progress within IOOS, including passage of the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observing System (ICOOS) Act in 2009; President Barack Obama's executive order establishing a National Ocean Policy, which puts priority on strengthening and integrating ocean, coastal and Great Lakes observations, mapping and infrastructure; the Global Climate Ocean Observing System reaching 61 percent completion; and the funding of the National Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative.

Last year also marked the formation of the Integrated Ocean Observing Committee (IOOC), as called for in the ICOOS Act. Comprised of federal representatives, this committee will oversee the implementation of procedural, technical and scientific requirements to ensure full execution of the system. The IOOC also released the 'U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System: A Blueprint for Full Capability,' which defines activities and systems of IOOS.

Specific Projects in 2010
The Data Integration Framework project, a three-year risk-reduction effort to make selected ocean data interoperable—increasing value and utility for associated decision-support tools, products and services—was successfully completed in 2010. We are now able to deliver an initial set of seven oceanographic observations (temperature, salinity, water level, currents, winds, waves and ocean color) in the same format as three NOAA data providers and six of the 11 IOOS Regions. Additionally, IOOS launched in June the first version of the IOOS Data Catalog to help people find ocean observation data.

The IOOS High-Frequency Radar (HFR) Network, now more than 100 systems strong, grew by 12 in 2010 and continues to provide data to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Search and Rescue Optimal Planning System. The USCG estimates that search areas can be reduced by as much as two-thirds after a 96-hour period when using HFR data, thereby leading to a greater number of lives saved.

The government's response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill also demonstrated that the original vision of IOOS was on the mark. The IOOS enterprise came together to provide HFR and ocean models that supported daily trajectory forecasts. IOOS also deployed gliders from many of its regions to analyze the three-dimensional challenges of response.

IOOS Regions and Partners
The 11 IOOS regions have emerged as a coordinated network of Regional Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, providing products and services to meet regional and national needs. The IOOS regions have had a number of accomplishments in 2010.

The Gulf Region had a key role in the oil spill. Because of the work done through IOOS, the Gulf Region was able to immediately provide real-time data sets to federal response teams.

In the Pacific Region, water-quality systems were deployed in Guam, Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia to monitor coastal and lagoon conditions.

The Northwest Region successfully competed for Murdock Foundation funds to deploy a new Oregon coastal buoy system that will monitor atmospheric and marine conditions.

The Caribbean Region worked closely with NOAA's National Weather Service and WeatherFlow Inc. (Scotts Valley, California) to deploy eight coastal weather stations and two coastal buoys.

The Southern California Region and the Central and Northern California Region added capacity to track harmful algal bloom dynamics and, by combining HFR and wave information, improved safety and efficiency of marine operations in the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Francisco.

The Northeast Region teamed up with the DeepCwind Consortium to ingest data from their buoys and set up a system to take data from a local network of right whale detection moorings.

The Mid-Atlantic Region worked with NOAA and local fisherman to reposition a federal buoy, a move that will better serve both NOAA and the fishermen. Another activity in this region is the funding by New Jersey to expand the region's HFR network, saving money by partnering with the existing IOOS infrastructure and getting new data in the bargain.

With funding from the Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Great Lakes Region is deploying 10 new nearshore moorings.

The Southeast Region worked with the state of South Carolina and initiated an effort to address the need for more timely advisories for beach and shellfish bed closures due to elevated bacteria levels.

The Alaska Region, in partnership with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, deployed several new HFR platforms.

The Alliance for Coastal Technologies, one of IOOS's functional partners, conducted an assessment of sensors measuring the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in water, a key tool for understanding ocean acidification.

Finally, with funding included in the fiscal year (FY) 2010 appropriations, IOOS initiated a project under the Southeastern Universities Research Association to evaluate storm surge and hypoxia forecasting along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

Plans for FY 2011
In FY 2011, IOOS will continue to enhance the national data management efforts and strengthen its regional component.

For example, planned enhancements to data management include adding data from moving platforms such as gliders or voluntary observing ships. IOOS regional and industry partners operated gliders more than 15,000 days in the past three years, supporting investigations of ocean dynamics, hurricane forecasting, fisheries management, climate change and water quality. IOOS partners will continue to refine and improve the use of gliders to provide innovative products and services to our stakeholders.

Resources for IOOS come from federal, state and private funding, and effective leveraging of these resources continues to yield positive results. Although a multisector approach is a hallmark of IOOS, it also adds complexity to the challenges of maintaining existing capacity across the ocean observing network.

The value of an integrated approach to ocean observing is already evident based on early success stories, with more to come as the program continues to develop and mature. The future of IOOS lies in the ongoing efforts of its partners to collaboratively provide integrated data and information to its users while helping its partners to make more informed decisions that produce economic, societal and environmental benefits for the nation.

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