The Atlantic Ocean – crucial for trade and fisheries – is among nature’s first lines of defence against climate change. But whilst all evidence points to accelerated warming, increased acidification and ocean circulation slowing down, initiatives to monitor these changes and predict their impact are still scattered. A fully integrated Atlantic Ocean Observing System would bring societal, economic and scientific benefits, and this is precisely what the AtlantOS (Optimizing and Enhancing the Integrated Atlantic Ocean Observing System) consortium set out to achieve. “Our vision with this project was to improve Atlantic observing. We did so by using the Framework of Ocean Observing – a system-level view of effective practices for setting requirements, coordinating observation networks and delivering sustained information products,” says AtlantOS coordinator, Martin Visbeck, from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel. “We wanted to obtain an international system that is more sustainable, more efficient, more integrated, and fit for purpose.” This wasn’t an easy task. To turn their vision into reality, the project partners needed to consider all the ins and outs of a fit-for-purpose system. Over the span of 4.5 years, the consortium conducted a thorough investigation of all aspects of ocean observation. The partners analysed current capacities and gaps for its three essential components – physical, biogeochemical and biological – and set the path towards technical advancements and new developments, for instance in the area of sensors. “Thanks to the team’s dedicated efforts, monitoring, coordination and cooperation in the Atlantic Ocean are in much better shape in 2019 than they were in 2015. Moreover, the improved observations, coordination and data management serve as inspiration for other initiatives in the world,” notes Visbeck.
Together as one
Perhaps the project’s most important achievement – essential to its success – was the engagement of all ocean observation stakeholders across the Atlantic, with a total of 62 partners across 18 countries. Trine Dale from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research contributed to the project by providing insights into Norway’s aquaculture, industry requirements for offshore aquaculture as well as monitoring of harmful algal blooms. Her efforts and those of other project partners have led to a new decision support tool for offshore aquaculture site selection, as well as Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletins in different EU countries. “The project’s achievements have been documented in datasets, protocols, policy papers, brochures, newsletters, posters, videos and scientific papers,” adds Visbeck. “Our work improved the likes of spatial and parameter coverage, basin-scale completeness, quality, authority and access to data. Moreover, we have increased engagement from ¬¬agencies developing ocean information products, the private sector, ocean and climate scientists, NGOs and educators, as well as those who work in the field of ocean literacy.” In the future, partners like Caroline Cusack from the Marine Institute, Ireland hope that AtlantOS will be further implemented as a sea basin-scale system (i.e. a system that covers the entire ocean basin) and that efforts to reach that goal continue. The consortium is already doing its utmost to maintain the project’s momentum by pursuing the AtlantOS high-level strategy and developing a governance structure. They actively contributed to the decadal OceanObs Conference in Hawaii in September 2019. Overall, AtlantOS successfully brought ocean observing communities together that in the past were working largely independently. Visbeck is also convinced that the project has helped existing EU information services such as the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) and the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet). In terms of legacy, the AtlantOS project led to the AtlantOS All-Atlantic Ocean Observing System Programme which was officially launched during a high-level symposium in Paris in 2019.
AtlantOS, Atlantic Ocean, observing system, basin-scale system