❝ Oceans can be monitored with increasing scope and quality with the use of Argo floats.
The Southern Ocean guards its secrets well. Strong winds and punishing waves have kept all except the hardiest sailors at bay. But a new generation of robotic explorers is helping scientists to document the region’s influence on the global climate. These devices are leading a technological wave that could soon give researchers unprecedented access to oceans worldwide.
❝ Oceanographers are already using data from the more than 3,900 floats in the international Argo array. These automated probes periodically dive to depths of 2,000 metres, measuring temperature and salinity before resurfacing to transmit their observations to a satellite. The US$21-million Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling Project is going a step further, deploying around 200 advanced probes to monitor several indicators of seawater chemistry and biological activity in the waters around Antarctica. A primary aim is to track the prodigious amount of carbon dioxide that flows into the Southern Ocean…
❝ Scientists estimate that the oceans have taken up roughly 93% of the extra heat generated by global warming, and around 26% of humanity’s CO2 emissions, but it is unclear precisely where in the seas the heat and carbon go. A better understanding of the processes involved could improve projections of future climate change.
❝ SOCCOM, which launched in 2014, has funding from the US National Science Foundation to operate in the Southern Ocean for six years. Project scientists’ ultimate goal is to expand to all the world’s oceans. That would require roughly 1,000 floats, and would cost an estimated $25 million per year…
Meanwhile, another set of researchers hopes to extend the existing Argo array beyond its current 2,000-metre limit. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is spending about $1 million annually on a Deep Argo project to monitor ocean temperature and salinity down to 6,000 metres. The agency deployed nine Deep Argo floats south of New Zealand in January, and is planning similar pilot arrays in the Indian Ocean and the North Atlantic.
❝ The deep-ocean data will be particularly useful in improving how models simulate ocean circulation, says Alicia Karspeck, an ocean modeller at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “From a scientific perspective, it’s a no-brainer,” she says — noting that the new floats are a low-risk investment compared with spending money on developing models without additional oceanographic data…
❝ …Ship surveys — which are done on average every ten years — cannot follow how heat is taken up by the deep ocean. By contrast, Deep Argo would allow researchers to continually watch heat move through the oceans. That could lead to a better understanding of how the oceans respond to global warming — and how the climate responds to the oceans.
Sooner or later, we have to hope our Congress is revitalized by the introduction of sensible, productive politicians instead of the current predominance of do-nothings and know-nothings. There can be a time when the United States resumes the leading role we offered the world for decades.
Much of that work continues. Witness this article by Jeff Tollefson. For now, the best parallel is a schoolhouse that holds bake sales for pencils and paper when the need is for computers, tablets and broadband.