After being hit during a pandemic, the coming months will be a crucial time for marine research. People rely on data collected by the seas in weather forecasts, understand climate change, and keep coastal economies in the water. To achieve this, scientists monitor everything from temperatures to salinity and depth to oxygen concentrations. But the COVID-19 crisis halted research around the world, and ocean scientists are trying to recover.
“Overnight, our ship turned from a research vessel that spotted a decade of ocean changes, into a simple fast steam home,” Leticia Barbero, an assistant researcher at the University of Miami, said in June 2020. Press release. He and his team rushed to introduce stand-alone instruments to continue measurements for climate and weather forecasts.
Despite the efforts of Barbero and his colleagues, in 2020 and the first half of 2021, real-time data collected from the world’s ocean observation networks decreased by 10 percent. certificate recently published Global Ocean Observing System Observation Coordination Group. Larger losses occurred in some networks. What is potentially more worrying is that vital maintenance was reduced by 15-20 percent, which could jeopardize even greater data collection.
Limit discussed with the Technical Coordinator, Mathieu Belbéoch, OceanOPS, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Director of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Commission on Marine Research, what happened and what happened in the past year.
This interview has been modified for length and clarity.
How do scientists usually collect data at sea?
Some instruments have been placed on ships, mainly merchant ships. It is a historic network of the WMO. The ship’s captains intercept the weather observations and record them. This has been modernized and everything is now shared in real time.
Then there are surface flowers that drift with the surface flow. Many are used for meteorology. Then you have a bunch of moored buoys – a lot at the coastal level, but in the tropics there is also a very important net that is especially committed to following El Nino. And then there is Argo network, a kind of revolutionary network that was raised about 20 years ago to measure the entire water column with robots going up and down the surface. There are 4000 of them.
All of this is complemented by a host of other systems – research ships, some ocean gliders that you can steer a little. And also some animals are used for measurements – mostly elephant seals.
How has the pandemic affected all these observation networks?
That is a question we have been asked a lot over the last year. There was clearly some effect.
The biggest impact was the lack of time available for the ship, which makes our lives difficult. Some vessels are used to make measurements, but also to place these buoys. So we have to be a little creative and we’ve used some sailboats, we’ve been collaborating with some skippers. Volvo shipping around the world they have introduced instruments to us.
In terms of data, we see a small loss. One network that suffered is a network called the Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP). It uses wearing bath thermographs, small sensors that are triggered from merchant ships. Along the merchant ship route, you have an operator or automatic system that calculates temperature gauges in the ocean about every hour. This program has deteriorated by at least 50 percent – or even 100 percent at some point, nothing happened in the first six months! So yes, we have lost some data there.
A few moored buoys were not maintained in time, perhaps they will be in the next six months. If not, we start to see different networks turn off those little dots on the map one after the other.
Mounted buoys in the tropics are the best tools for tracking El Nino. This system operates at only 60% of capacity today, although it is not all related to COVID due to financial challenges and other difficulties.
According to your recent report card, real-time data has dropped a total of 10 percent, how can that affect research or forecasts?
It’s hard to say what the price of a single observation is. Some very important time series have not been made, so this data will be permanently lost. You are not there to take this information, so to restore the climate this is a loss. During the rest of the series, the accuracy of the forecast has deteriorated. But so far the system handles shocks pretty much in my opinion.
The heart of the system is independent, it is made of independent instruments. Those buoys, some last a year or two, others operate five or more. So when they are started, they can run for a long time and if the telemetry infrastructure is in order, the system will continue to work.
Are you expecting more challenges to come forward as a result of the pandemic, or have things started to return to normal?
The system is able to handle a six-month or one-year ticket renewal delay. But more than that, we are starting to be serious. One surface driver lives for about a year. So if you don’t go to sea for a year, you lose the whole network. And that’s the only way to get air pressure, for example. You do not get air pressure from the satellites.
This year is critical because there were a lot of shortcomings in implementation. So we have some inventory to use this year, so there’s a lot more to do.
You know, if no one is going to change drivers in the Indian Ocean this year – next year, the Indian Ocean will have very bad data on monsoons and all of these critical applications. Models and services are deteriorating. We are not there yet, but the community must work hard this year to maintain the system.
It was already a challenge. I mean, maintaining the system is a kind of struggle. This world-important infrastructure is funded by 70% research, which means that researchers have to apply for proposals and science projects every two, three, four years. It’s like if your highway is maintained by research, you know it’s very weird because everyone needs a highway. And for a maritime surveillance system, it’s the same. This critical infrastructure will be maintained with short funding. So before the pandemic, the system was already fragile. And the pandemic has just accelerated some of these challenges.
I would say that if the delays continue again, as they did last year, over the next six months, we will start to see measurable effects. Today’s effects are on the margin. And like I said, the heart of the system is surviving a pandemic.