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Published: 12 July 2017  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
EnvironmentClimate & global change  |  Earth Observation  |  Ecosystems, incl. land, inland waters, marine
International cooperation
Research policyHorizon 2020
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Belgium  |  Brazil  |  Canada  |  Croatia  |  Denmark  |  Faroe Islands  |  France  |  Germany  |  Ireland  |  Italy  |  Netherlands  |  Norway  |  Poland  |  Portugal  |  South Africa  |  Spain  |  United Kingdom  |  United States
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An integrated observing system for the Atlantic Ocean

Buoys, floats, moorings and research vessels, to name just a few examples - data about the state of the Atlantic is collected by a number of means. And by a profusion of actors, who could jointly produce even better results if they applied a common strategy. EU-funded researchers are driving the development of an integrated system.

Underwater photo of the ocean

© willyam - fotolia.com

The AtlantOS project is dedicated to the creation of an integrated Atlantic Ocean observing system. “We are working on several measures to advance the strategic development of this system, to connect existing activities to make them more efficient,” says project coordinator Martin Visbeck of GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, in Germany.

The consortium is also aiming at extending the scope of information available from observation of the Atlantic, Visbeck adds. “There is a rapidly growing desire among decision-makers – both in the public and the private sector – for more and in particular more data based information from the ocean,” he notes.

Work in the project, which is taken forward by a consortium of 62 partners from 18 countries from both sides of the Atlantic, began in April 2015. It is due to end in June 2019, following the delivery of a blueprint for the development of the proposed system.

Coherent, convergent, cost-effective

“What we have at the moment is different types of observing system, which are usually dedicated to one single question – climate, biodiversity, ocean chemistry, fisheries, or rapid response to hazards such as oil spills, for instance. By combining these approaches and looking at them strategically, as a whole system, you can boost efficiency,” Visbeck explains.

“Among other things, we try to point out opportunities,” he notes. “When you go out to assess fish stocks, you can easily take some other measurements alongside. This would significantly enhance the capability of the whole system and increase efficiency.”

New possibilities are also arising with the emergence of new technology such as increasingly powerful robotic systems and new sensor technology, he says. Wider adoption of such technologies could help to reduce the cost of ocean observing, or to make the investment stretch further.

“We are also striving to establish common procedures, data formats and calibration features, so that it doesn’t matter where a measurement is taken and the data are all consistent with each other,” Visbeck adds. These improvements would make it easier to assemble the various types of data into a comprehensive overview of the state of the ocean, both as a way of documenting change and as a starting point for prediction of its likely evolution.

An evolutionary process

One of the project’s aims is to enhance the contribution of Atlantic observing to broader collective efforts such as GEO/Blue Planet, as well as GOOS, the Global Ocean Observing System. A shared strategic vision for the future of Atlantic observing would go a long way in this respect, and Visbeck underlines the constructive dialogue that has been established among the countries involved. A new partnership that is about to be formalised between Brazil, South Africa and the EU will mark another milestone for this collaboration, he notes.

The plan, in AtlantOS, is to generate awareness of the capabilities and possibilities of the various systems that are already in operation, in a bid to show how their activities and further development could contribute to the common goal. “We see this as an evolutionary pathway rather than as the introduction of a new system,” says Visbeck.

“The key point is to look at Atlantic observing as a system, rather than a random collection of individual bits, and to really understand the capability of this system, rather than the individual capabilities of discrete components such as a network of floats or of a fleet of research vessels. This is new, because the various groups involved have mostly been working in their own circles,” he concludes.

Project details

  • Project acronym: AtlantOS
  • Participants: Germany (Coordinator), UK, Ireland, Denmark, France, Poland, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Faroe Islands, Belgium, Italy, Croatia, Canada, Brazil, USA, South Africa
  • Project N°: 633211
  • Total costs: € 20 652 921
  • EU contribution: € 20 652 921
  • Duration: April 2015 to June 2019

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