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Argo float collage.Dec. 29, 2003 — As a new year approaches, a landmark achievement in international cooperation and implementation of a global observing system has been realized—the 1,000th Argo float is in operation. NOAA is one of the chief participants in implementing the ocean-sensing Argo array.

The international program has a goal of placing 3,000 Argo floats throughout the world’s oceans by 2006. Argo floats function as robots, collecting and distributing data on weather and ocean phenomena that are critical to safety and economies.

“The global array of 3,000 Argo floats is a key element of our global ocean observing system, by achieving one-third of that array, we reached an important milestone,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “With 1,000 instruments now in operation we are beginning to get a better synoptic picture, or snapshot, of what is happening beneath the surface of the world’s oceans."

The Argo array is part of the Global Climate Observing System/Global Ocean Observing System (GCOS/GOOS), composed of orbiting, sea-based and land-based environmental sensing devices. Data collected from the floats are used by researchers in many scientific disciplines, including the study of meteorology, climatology and oceanography.

Argo floats are the oceanic equivalent of atmospheric weather balloons. The data they collect during their lifetime enable continuous monitoring of circulation and climate patterns in the oceans on a global scale. Because weather and climate in the atmosphere are linked to the ocean, data collected by the Argo floats increase the knowledge of and help to better prepare for hurricanes, El Niño and other major events that affect human safety, food production, water management and transportation. Argo data are fully and openly available for all and provide information that every nation can use to better protect the health and economic welfare of its population.

As with the World Weather Watch program of the World Meteorological Organization, implementation of the Argo array is accomplished with strong international coordination and collaboration, facilitated by a partnership between the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the WMO.

In addition to the United States, other nations that either have Argo floats in the water or plan to deploy the instruments within the next year are Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Commission.

More than 200 scientists from both the research and operational communities met in Tokyo, Japan, in November to exchange the first results from the analysis of data from the Argo array.

Argo floats are uniquely equipped autonomous instruments that gather information on a global scale, no other system has been capable of this before. A mechanism housed within the instrument affects its buoyancy, causing it to sink to more than 6,000 feet below the surface (more than a mile), at which depth it drifts passively for 10 days. The buoyancy mechanism then triggers it to rise, measuring temperature and salinity along the way, and at the surface an antenna beams the information to satellites for relay to shore, along with the float's position as determined by the satellite. After transmitting the data, the unit sinks again to repeat the cycle.

Additionally, the difference between the float’s present reporting position and its position 10 days earlier gives an estimate of the ocean currents at depth. The floats are built to continue this process for approximately four years. Argo data are made available within 24 hours after collection on the operational communications system used by the meteorological services; data are also available via the Internet.

The first Argo floats went into the water in 2000. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., and the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., are major United States partners in the Argo program, along with the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla., and Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanographic Center.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nationís coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
The Contribution of NOAA Buoys to a Global Ocean Observing System: Benefits to Climate Prediction and Research

Building a Sustained Ocean Observing System for Climate

NOAA Office of Global Programs—Climate Observation

U.S. ARGO Data Center

Argo B-Roll of Deployment from a Ship (video)

Tropical Atmosphere Ocean project

Operational El Niño / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Observing System

NOAA Current Sea Surface Temperature Maps

Media Contact:
Jana Goldman, NOAA Research, (301) 713-2483