Interdisciplinary oceanographic observations: the wave of the future


  • Tommy D. Dickey Ocean Physics Laboratory, University of California
  • Robert R. Bidigare Center for Marine Microbial Ecology and Diversity, University of Hawaii



technology, instrumentation, platforms, modeling, interdisciplinary, observatories, observational systems


Oceanographic measurements, though difficult and expensive, are essential for effective study, stewardship, preservation, and management of our oceanic and atmospheric systems. Ocean sciences have been driven by technologiesenabling new observations, discoveries, and modelling of diverse interdisciplinary phenomena. Despite rapid advances inocean sampling capabilities, the numbers of disciplinary variables that are necessary to solve oceanographic problems arelarge and increasing. In addition, the time and space scales of key processes span over ten orders of magnitude; presently, there remain major spectral gaps in our sampling. Thus, undersampling presents the main limitation to our understanding of global climate change; variability in fish biomass and regime shifts; and episodic and extreme events. Fortunately, recentadvances in ocean platforms and in situ autonomous sampling systems and satellite sensors are enabling unprecedented rates of data acquisition as well as the expansion of temporal and spatial coverage. Consequently, improved sampling strategies will lead to a reduction in ocean forecasting error for predictions of a multitude of atmospheric and oceanic processes. Nonetheless, major challenges remain to massively increase the variety and quantity of ocean measurements and to effectively coordinate, synthesize, and distribute oceanographic data sets. In particular, numbers of measurements are limited by the costs of instruments and their deployment as well as data processing and production of useful data products and visualizations. Looking forward, many novel and innovative technologies involving computing, nanotechnology, robotics, information and telemetry technologies, space sciences, and molecular biology are being developed at a fast pace for numerous applications (Kaku, 1997; Kurzweil, 1999). It is anticipated that several of these can and will be transitioned to the ocean sciences and will prove to be extremely beneficial for oceanographers in the next few decades. Already, autonomous, ‘robotic’ in situsampling, high spectral resolution optical and chemical instrumentation, multi-frequency acoustics, and biomolecular techniques are being utilized by a limited number of oceanographers. Also, increased temporal and spatial sampling capabilities for expanding numbers of interdisciplinary variables are being accelerated thanks to both new technologies and utilization of data assimilation models coupled with autonomous sampling platforms. Data networks coupled with internet connectivity are rapidly increasing access to and utilization of data sets. In this essay, we review recent technological progress for solving some key oceanographic problems and highlight some of the foreseeable challenges and opportunities of ocean science technologies and their applications.


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How to Cite

Dickey TD, Bidigare RR. Interdisciplinary oceanographic observations: the wave of the future. Sci. mar. [Internet]. 2005Jun.30 [cited 2024Apr.19];69(S1):23-42. Available from: