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Future Developments to Observational Physical Oceanography

Tom Sanford*


Forecasting is one of the most difficult intellectual endeavors. If I could do this well, I’d have salvaged more of my retirement investments! However, from the perspective of my 45 years in oceanography, I can offer some expectations for 2025. I experienced the transition from purely mechanical instruments, such as current meters and Nansen bottles, to electronic versions, navigation from Loran A to GPS and hand graphing of observations to onboard digital computing and display. The advent of low-power electronics, microprocessors, solid-state memory, batteries and communication links has had an enormous impact on ocean instrumentation, field observations and data analyses. Some components and systems, however, have changed little, such as pressure cases and underwater connectors. Research has become much more interdisciplinary. Clearly, we have engaged more in coupled atmosphere-ocean investigations. Other changes include the growth of graduate education programs, comprehensive numerical models and the research vessel fleet. Even the attitudes and helpfulness of vessel crew have changed greatly for the better! There is more emphasis on outreach.

Between now and 2025 we need to avoid some obvious pitfalls. First is funding, the lifeblood of oceanography. Oceanographic sensor development and field operations are expensive in terms of personnel and facilities. For many of us, we rely mostly on ONR and NSF and have experienced increased difficulty and uncertainty in obtaining adequate

*

Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington



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Future Developments to Observational Physical Oceanography Tom Sanford* Forecasting is one of the most difficult intellectual endeavors. If I could do this well, I’d have salvaged more of my retirement investments! However, from the perspective of my 45 years in oceanography, I can offer some expectations for 2025. I experienced the transition from purely mechanical instruments, such as current meters and Nansen bottles, to electronic versions, navigation from Loran A to GPS and hand graphing of observations to onboard digital computing and display. The advent of low-power electronics, microprocessors, solid-state memory, batteries and communication links has had an enormous impact on ocean instru- mentation, field observations and data analyses. Some components and systems, however, have changed little, such as pressure cases and under- water connectors. Research has become much more interdisciplinary. Clearly, we have engaged more in coupled atmosphere-ocean investiga- tions. Other changes include the growth of graduate education programs, comprehensive numerical models and the research vessel fleet. Even the attitudes and helpfulness of vessel crew have changed greatly for the bet- ter! There is more emphasis on outreach. Between now and 2025 we need to avoid some obvious pitfalls. First is funding, the lifeblood of oceanography. Oceanographic sensor devel- opment and field operations are expensive in terms of personnel and facilities. For many of us, we rely mostly on ONR and NSF and have experienced increased difficulty and uncertainty in obtaining adequate *Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington 39

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0 OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 support. State and municipal governments should support local environ- mental studies. Alternative models for funding should be explored, such as by private individuals and foundations. Second, research opportunities are changing. Already there is a trend away from individually directed research to multidisciplinary, multi- investigator projects. NSF’s Science and Technology Centers and ONR’s Departmental Research Initiative (DRI) projects are examples. This trend does not encourage innovative, PI directed research. Access to facili- ties may be limited because ship time is becoming more expensive and less available. Vessel clearances for work in foreign Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) may become more difficult. Restrictions on the scientific use of acoustic transmissions, such as from acoustic modems, ADCPs, and acoustic backscatter systems, are hampering oceanographic research. Third, human resources may dwindle. We lack recruitment and reten- tion of enough graduate students and ocean engineers, and fewer post- graduate and initial professional employment opportunities. Oceanog- raphy in 2025 will require new ideas, methodologies and innovative technologies. However, there are too few junior ocean engineers to sup- port maximum advances (a related impediment is the rapid obsolescence of electrical and mechanic components). Few graduate students conduct dissertation research at sea or even have any sea experience. Some gradu- ate students may view the fragility and uncertainty of funding as disin- centives for a career in experimental oceanography. The field is graying and needs to develop a plan to recruit and retain young oceanographers. More foreign students fill slots in our graduate programs. Recent ads for postdocs received few or no replies from U.S. citizens. One remedy that could change this trend is to reinstate the ONR Graduate Fellowship program. A forecast for 2025 should reflect responses to present and looming challenges and new opportunities. What are these? We need greater and more reliable support and research opportunities for graduate and post- graduate students and junior oceanographers. A careful balance between curiosity-driven and sponsor-directed investigations must be maintained. We need more comprehensive, more representative, longer duration, and cost-effective ocean observations. New research facilities, new vessels and development of new technologies are vital to the advancement of physi- cal oceanography in 2025. I can speculate on some topics. My perspective emphasizes basic research in physical oceanography. I think there will be more emphasis on research that is interdisciplin- ary and has relevance for society. Global climate change will continue to require extensive observational and numerical studies. There will need to be oceanographic methods to monitor the global ocean circulation. In particular, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)

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1 TOM SANFORD must be observed routinely because it may be a precursor to significant climate change. Another example is hurricane prediction, even mitigation. Carbon sequestration in the ocean and ocean acidification are important research topics of considerable societal importance. Anoxic zones require mitigation. Certainly, sea level rise will deprive millions of people of their livelihoods and force migrations, some of which will be strongly resisted by potential host countries. Piracy and terrorism may jeopardize oceano- graphic fieldwork and national security. Many of these problems will prompt interest in extensive coastal observing systems, such as cabled observatories, autonomous oceanographic instruments and satellite sen- sors. Wave and tidal energy conversion is likely to increase as societies search for alternative energy sources. Estuarine research will be needed to understand the ecology and cope with increased fishing and pollution. Of course, there will be the process studies that determine the physics of ocean phenomena, such as ocean mixing, storm responses and fron- tal processes. Observational work will rely on autonomous instruments. Swarms of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will provide truly synoptic observations of ocean regions and processes. Spatially integrat- ing observations, such as those based on ocean acoustics and motional induction, will increase. How will we achieve more comprehensive ocean research of longer duration and larger spatial coverage in 2025? We are likely to rely more on autonomous and remotely-operated technologies, satellites, vessels, shore-based and cabled observatories, bottom stations, gliders/drifters with acoustic modems, and more comprehensive computer models. A potentially important development is the cooperation of the maritime industry to provide platforms for VOS. More progress will be made with enhanced collaborations among oceanographers and ocean engineers. Areas where scientific and societal needs should promote new meth- odologies include: • low-power and high-density electronics, larger capacity solid- state memory and faster microprocessors, • higher capacity energy sources (batteries, EC and ultra capacitors), • in situ power generation (e.g., wave, microbial fuel cell), • pressure-tolerant electronic components (i.e., operates without pressure case), • improved high-baud, bi-directional communication links (e.g., Iridium follow-on), • AUVs to make observations in hostile areas and piratical states, • larger AUVs for delivery of bottom instruments or operation as mobile gateway nodes,

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2 OCEANOGRAPHY IN 2025 • more satellites with traditional and new Earth observing sensors, • more VOS usage for instrument deployments and observations, • faster computers and peripherals, • improved numerical models with strong data assimilation, • new sensors and sensor systems for: – velocity (low-frequency ADCP, turbulence, vorticity, profilers), – gliders, drifters and floats, – cabled observatories with profilers and bottom sensors (e.g., inverted echo sounders), – fast CTD profilers for operation on under way ships (both research vessels and VOS), – air-sea fluxes (e.g., gases, momentum, enthalpy), – in situ pH and gas concentration sensors with long-term stability. Although progress will occur in most of the science topics and sensor developments, it is certain that many gaps will remain and new chal- lenges and opportunities will arise. Will we have a comprehensive AMOC monitoring system, improved hurricane intensity and track prediction, extensive coastal pollution mitigation, accurate sea level prediction? Doubtful. I think progress will be made in many areas, however much new research and development will be required to achieve these goals in later years. It is likely that significant new financial resources will be hard to obtain under the current circumstances. I trust that compelling cases can be made for many important oceanographic undertakings.