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Deep thinker

Memorial University researcher co-ordinates global ocean observation


By Kelly Foss

A global team of scientists, including a researcher from Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland, is bringing the world together in a co-ordinated effort to observe the Atlantic Ocean.

Dr. Brad 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.

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.

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

The development of AtlantOS and CIOOS was supported by the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network, 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.

That work complements the larger initiative known as the Global Ocean Observing System, a collaborative international effort for the gathering of data about the world’s oceans and seas.

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.

“The oceans provide much of the oxygen that we breathe.” — 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 delivered its vision at the first international AtlantOS symposium, held recently at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, France, and will be discussing its implementation at Ocean OBS’19, a global conference for those involved in ocean observation, in Hawaii this month.

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.

“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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