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Atlantic vision

Memorial researcher helping focus global attention on need for ocean observation

Part of a special feature focusing on how the Memorial community is contributing to the direction of Newfoundland and Labrador.

By Kelly Foss

A global team of researchers, including Dr. Brad deYoung from Memorial University, is hoping to bring the world together in a co-ordinated effort to observe the Atlantic Ocean.

Dr. de Young is a professor with the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Faculty of Science. He’s helped develop the vision for AtlantOS, the All-Atlantic Ocean Observing System, which aims to establish a sustainable, multidisciplinary, multi-thematic system supported by countries around the Atlantic, building on the observing platforms, networks and systems already in place.

Watch the video below to learn more about the need for AtlantOS.

Clear gap

“AtlantOS is meant to fill a clear gap in ocean observing, and that is around co-ordination and integration,” he said. “We spend a lot of money and time observing the Atlantic, but we don’t work well together to ensure that we get the greatest value from those observations.

“Much of what we presently do is through scientific programs that are funded for a short period of time and typically in a specific area, and the data is primarily meant to serve scientists,” Dr. de Young continued.

“AtlantOS wants to ensure that data is collected and prepared in a way that is useful to society, and scientists too, and make it available as widely as possible.”

Dr. de Young has been part of a similar initiative in Canada, which led to the Canadian Integrated Ocean Observing System (CIOOS) led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Dr. de Young in Quidi Vidi, N.L.
Dr. de Young in Quidi Vidi, N.L.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The development of AtlantOS and CIOOS was supported by MEOPAR, a program that seeks to improve the societal value that we get from making ocean observation.

The Canadian goal, for CIOOS, was to co-ordinate ocean observing in Canada from the Pacific and Arctic to the Atlantic. The approach in AtlantOS was to bring together ocean observing across the Atlantic, east and west, north and south, building a basin-scale system.

Long-term sustainability

The first step for the team was to devise a plan for what they hoped to accomplish. The key issue they identified was sustainability.

“We focused first on financial sustainability, which we presently lack and desperately need,” said Dr. de Young.

“There are, however, other aspects of sustainability to consider, including governance sustainability, putting systems in place that will maintain and operate this observing system, and structural sustainability, so we have the right partners involved to ensure the benefits are seen by all and that contributions come from as wide a group as possible.”

He believes AtlantOS will ultimately save time, money and energy by encouraging partners to work together to co-ordinate the implementation of observing systems, exchanging knowledge and sharing infrastructure.

“All of society depends on the ocean, even if we don’t realize it.” — Dr. Brad de Young

The next step involves socializing the vision with various funding groups, starting with governmental agencies and private sector stakeholders from nations around the Atlantic.

The team is delivering its vision at the first international AtlantOS symposium, to be held at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, this week, and will be discussing its implementation at Ocean OBS’19, a global conference for those involved in ocean observation, in Hawaii in September.

A changing ocean

Why should people care about what’s going on in the deep ocean?

Dr. de Young says it should be easy for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, who live alongside the Atlantic Ocean, to recognize the province’s dependence on it.

Many groups will directly benefit from AtlantOS – fish harvesters, shipping and offshore oil companies and aquaculture groups, all who work on the ocean; those who live in coastal communities and worry about storm surges; even weather forecasters, who rely heavily on ocean information.

Dr. de Young says that, from our food to the oxygen we breathe, everyone on the planet depends on the ocean.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“Different groups will benefit from better ocean observing; but all of society depends on the ocean, even if we don’t realize it,” he said. “Much of our food comes from the ocean, but, perhaps more fundamentally, the oceans provide much of the oxygen that we breathe.”

That makes understanding what’s happening beneath the surface all the more important.

“We’re on a planet that’s changing,” said Dr. de Young. “The climate is changing, the ocean is becoming more acidic, the oxygen is decreasing, the circulation patterns are changing, and fish and other organisms are moving around as the ocean changes.

“These changes will have direct impacts on us. Ocean observations will allow us to track these changes, which is important if we are to understand them and adapt to or mitigate them.”

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