The ocean provides essential services to society. It regulates climate, provides food and energy, and supports a range of important economic activities. But the ocean and its ecosystems are under threat. They are impacted by climate change (warming, sea level rise, acidification, oxygen depletion) and other human-induced pressures such as pollution, fishing, resource extraction and habitat destruction. The United Nations has recognized the importance of the ocean in its Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development by including a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 14) to ‘Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.’ Fundamental to achieving this will be enhanced knowledge of all parts of the marine system from coastal seas to the deepest parts of the global ocean. There is now, more than ever, a need to continuously observe and monitor the ocean.
In April 2016, the 43rd Plenary Session of the IPCC took a decision to produce a Special Report on ‘Climate Change, the Oceans and Cryosphere’ as part of its forthcoming 6th Assessment Report cycle (AR6). This reflects the growing appreciation of the relationship between the ocean and climate. In this context, ocean observations are imperative to understand and predict the evolution of our weather and climate, and to develop sound mitigation and adaption measures to climate change. Ocean data are also essential for a better and sustainable management of human activities in coastal seas and increasingly in the open ocean, to understand the impacts of such activities, and to support the development of a sustainable maritime economy. This view was reinforced in May 2016 by the Science and Technology Ministers of the G7 in their Tsukuba Communiqué. The Communiqué stated that ‘many parts of the ocean interior are not sufficiently observed’ and that ‘it is crucial to develop far stronger scientific knowledge necessary to assess the ongoing changes [in the ocean] and their impact on economies.’ In short, sustainable Blue Growth is simply not possible without sustained ocean observations.
The scientific community has played an important role in developing the ocean observing system that exists today. Technologies, methods and standards have been developed for collecting an ever-increasing array of marine data. Because the ocean is costly to access and highly variable and unpredictable, collecting marine data in a systematic way is challenging, especially in areas further offshore and in deeper waters. Efforts to improve capability, durability and efficiency and to reduce the costs of observing and surveying equipment are continually ongoing. However, major gaps still exist across a range of important geological, chemical, biological, and ecological parameters necessary for understanding ocean health and its links to human wellbeing.
There is an accepted need to operationalize the collection of a much broader range of marine environmental parameters and to make data available and usable by multiple sectors, including research, industry, and competent national authorities with responsibility for managing marine and maritime activities. At European level, major strides have been made since the adoption of the EU Marine Knowledge 2020 strategy, including the establishment of the European Marine Observation and Data Network, EMODnet, and the development of the Copernicus Earth monitoring programme and its marine component, CMEMS. Europe now needs to take the next step towards an overarching integrated, and sustained pan-European framework for ocean observation. This framework is referred to as the European Ocean Observing System, or EOOS.
Currently, there are numerous programmes, projects and initiatives working to develop and implement effective ocean observing capacities, operating at different geographical scales (local, national, regional, pan-European and international) and different timescales (real-time, daily, monthly, annually, etc). These capabilities are, by their nature, highly fragmented and complex. While there is some coordination at global level, for example under the auspices of GOOS and JCOMM, a strengthening in coordination at regional scale is necessary to ensure that the right observations are made and that they are made on a systematic and sustained basis. An overarching strategy across all measurement platforms is required to ensure that best use is made of limited resources in Member States and at European level. EOOS will link the currently disparate components of the observing system in Europe and will promote novel technology and infrastructure development, standardization, open access to data, and capacity building.