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Global ocean system hits 1 million observations

3500 drifting robotic sensors provide new insights into the ocean’s influence on global climate and marine ecosystems
An Argo float being deployed in the Southern Ocean

An Argo float being deployed in the Southern Ocean

Oceanographers announced today that a global observing system – based on drifting sensors that travel from the ocean’s surface to mid-depths – reached the milestone of 1 million ocean observations.

Since 2000, scientists from 28 countries – including Australia – have deployed 3500 drifting robotic sensors, which provide new insights into the ocean’s central influence on global climate and marine ecosystems.

The United States is the largest provider of sensors to the network under a $25 million annual program called Argo. The CSIRO leads the Australian effort with the Integrated Marine Observing System and the Bureau of Meteorology, maintaining more than 300 sensors mainly in the Indian and Southern Oceans and Tasman Sea.

Data is now being widely used in operational services for the community, including weather and climate prediction and ocean forecasting for environmental emergency response, shipping, defence and safety at sea.

The sensors collect data at one ocean profile about every four minutes or around 11,000 per month. According to the CSIRO, since the start of deep oceanography in the late 19th century, ships collected about 500,000 temperature and salinity profiles to a depth of 1km and 200,000 to 2km.

Argo will take only eight years to collect its next million profiles, the CSIRO said.

Dr Susan Wijffels, a CSIRO scientist and co-chair at Argo, said almost 1200 scientific papers based on or incorporating Argo data have been produced since the start of the program.

Argo data, which is a delivered to a scientist’s desk within 24 hours – was used to analyse ocean salinity patterns, which suggest a 16 to 24 per cent “intensification of the global water cycle will occur in a future 2 to 3 degrees warmer world.”

This data has also given scientists an insight into changing bodies of water in the Southern Ocean and the way in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere.

“The world’s deep ocean environment is as hostile as that in space, but because it holds so many clues to our climate future, exploring it with the Argo observing network is a real turning point for science,” said Dr Wijffels.

The Argo data set was an essential mainstay of climate and ocean researchers and complemented data from earth observing satellites while providing subsurface information, said Dr Wijffels.

It provided “new insights into changes in the earth’s hydrological warming rate, opening up the possibility of longer term climate forecasting,” she said.

This milestone follows Liquid Robotics announcement last week that its autonomous robotic ocean vehicle had completed a 16,668-kilometre journey across the Pacific Ocean, collecting and transmitting large amounts of high resolution ocean data.

This vehicle had travelled from San Francisco in the United States to Harvey Bay in Queensland over 365 days.

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