A Report from a Global Ocean Observing System Project

The ocean is the memory of the climate system, with the potential to store one thousand times more heat than the atmosphere and fifty times more carbon. Most of this storage is in the deep ocean.

The deep ocean, including the seabed covers approximately 60% of the Earth’s surface and 98% of Earth’s habitable realm. It is a dynamic sometimes highly responsive environment that can change radically within scales of meters to kilometres.

Direct and targeted observations have facilitated investigations of the deep-sea realm, resulting in the discovery of new ecosystems and abyssal activities, and revelations of highly heterogeneous deep seafloor habitats. These observations have produced surveys of ocean seafloor sediments, and these serve as a window into current and past productivity -- and related climate regimes, both on land and in the sea. Observations of deep ocean tracer distributions have also provided one of the very few means of reconstructing historic oceanic flow fields and associated climate change.

During the next 10 years, the deep ocean research community will define and develop observations of essential physical, chemical, geological and biological variables. Since little is known about the deep ocean, a primary objective will be to map and decipher natural and human induced variations. To do this the community will require a combination of ship-borne and autonomous in situ technologies.

Toward this goal, the deep ocean community is drafting a strategy report, which is nearing its final stages. It proposes an initial list of essential ocean variables (EOV) for a deep ocean observing system. An EOV is loosely defined as an oceanographic variable or quantity that the ocean community agrees must be measured in order to further scientific understanding of the ocean and Earth systems, and their impact on society.

As well as articulating these variables, authors and contributors will explore the societal issues and scientific challenges that drive the need for sustained observation of the deep ocean. There will be an overview of the observing elements currently in place, which platforms and technologies are meeting the needs of the system, and where there is a need for improvement. There will also be an exploration of the impact and benefit of a standardised and open data policy. Lastly, the report will explore strategies for achieving integration by identifying expert panels and implementation teams that are mindful of the needs of the deep ocean observing system overall.

By using a highly collaborative, EOV-based approach the authors of the deep ocean observing strategy seek to encourage increased partnerships across the research and operational communities. Key among these partnerships will be working with the SOOS community to align, assess and improve the readiness levels of requirements, technologies and platforms, and data products that are of common interest to both communities; as well as to other communities conducting deep ocean observing activities.

The draft report will be placed online in early 2014. Information can be found at:

  • Consultative Draft:
  • Contact Andrea McCurdy at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • A session focused on Deep Ocean Observing will be conducted at Ocean Sciences in February 2014. More can be found at:
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