Saturday, March 5, 2011

Gorrick and GOOS

Glenn Gorrick’s artistic depiction of the Global Ocean Observing System, and the ocean that it serves to monitor, plays freely with spatial scales. The work sweeps effortlessly from the vast realm of the global oceans, through the human scales of oceanographic equipment and marine animals, to molecules. Fitting this range of scales on a single tableau required quite an artistic flight of fancy – but at its core, the work is not fantasy. In fact, the global ocean observing system is operating today, in the real world, across this same enormous range of scales.

While the artwork manages to beautifully capture many of the diverse elements of the observing system and the ocean, what unfortunately cannot be depicted – even with plenty of artistic license - is the daily delivery of societal benefits that routine ocean observations underpin. First and foremost the system facilitates sustainable use of the many resources found at sea. 70% by volume of world trade moves across the surface of the ocean.  A hundred billion dollar a year fisheries industry supplies protein to millions of coastal communities and is an essential export of many economies.  Energy extraction from off-shore oil fields, as well as the advent of extensive off-shore wind turbines keeps the world's machinery moving.  These industries depend on a robust observing system in order to operate efficiently and sustainably.

Additionally, a wide range of valuable predictions depends on ocean observations. These include for example forecasts of hurricane intensity, landfall and related storm surge heights, tsunami propagation and run-up, and seasonal climate variations such as the timing and strength of monsoon rains and El Nino related seasonal droughts and floods. Finally, the oceans are both driving and responding to global anthropogenic change. Sea level rise, ocean acidification, ecosystem changes and the impacts of pollution are all monitored by the system, and it is only by keeping this watchful eye on the changing ocean, that humanity can mitigate, and adapt to, these dramatic changes.