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Devices Are a Key Element of Global Ocean Observing System

Image of first Canadian Argo float being deployed from the CCGS John P. Tully in the Gulf of Alaska on June 9, 2001.Dec. 1, 2004 ó NOAA and its partners announced that 1,500 free floating, data collecting devices are now in operation in the world's oceans, reaching the half-way point of an eventual fleet of 3,000 floats. The devices, named Argo, are now in all parts of the world's ice-free oceans and are the backbone of many nations' climate and weather programs. The European Union and 17 nations participated in the collaborative Argo program. (Click image for larger view of first Canadian Argo float being deployed from the CCGS John P. Tully in the Gulf of Alaska on June 9, 2001. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Photo courtesy of Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.)

"These devices are an important part of a global ocean observing system. Argo floats collect and deliver information on the temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean and help give answers to a wide range of oceanographic and climate issues," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Two of NOAA's laboratories—the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle—are Argo program participants.

Data collected by the floats are available without restriction to anyone wanting to use them. They are made available as soon as initial quality checks have been completed, most within 24 hours.

Image of the mechanism inside of an Argo float.Scientists around the world use the Argo data in a variety of ways, including calculating heat storage by the ocean, which is important in verifying climate models; studying salinity changes because of changing rainfall; predicting El Niño events; assessing impacts of ocean temperature, salinity and currents on fisheries; studying the interaction between atmosphere and ocean during monsoons; serving marine transportation needs in ocean forecasting models; and monitoring how the oceans drive hurricanes and typhoons. (Click image for larger view of the mechanism inside of an Argo float. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Photo courtesy of CSIRO Marine Research, Australia.)

"This was just a dream back in 1998," Lautenbacher said. "Today, the dream is a reality and these devices prove that a global network of robotic instruments can provide the information we need to enhance our understanding of climate, weather and our oceans."

The floats travel throughout the ocean gathering and transmitting data. They sink to a depth of about 6,000 feet, travel for about 10 days following the ocean currents, and then rise to the surface to transmit information via satellite about temperature and salinity collected on their return to the surface. After transmitting that data they sink below the waves and repeat the process. The floats have a life expectancy of approximately four years.

Argo floats are unique in measuring subsurface currents that can be used to calculate global-scale heat transport by the oceans. In 2004, more than 800 floats will have been deployed. The array should approach the 3000-float target in 2007.

Argo is a major contributor to the World Climate Research Programme's Climate Variability and Predictability Experiment (CLIVAR) project and to the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE). The Argo array is part of the Global Climate Observing System/Global Ocean Observing System (GCOS/GOOS).

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.

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Media Contact:
Jana Goldman, NOAA Research, (301) 713-2483 ext. 181