Global Ocean Observing Array Reaches Milestone

International Argo Effort Launches 3,000th Float

November 2, 2007

Deploying Argo float.
Deploying Argo float.

+ High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The Argo ocean observing network has reached its initial target of 3,000 robotic floats worldwide after eight years of deployments. By systematically measuring ocean temperature and salinity, Argo has already improved estimates and forecasts of sea level rise and is playing a key role in improving seasonal climate forecasts and giving new insight into hurricane activity.

"This is a major milestone as we expand our global earth observing systems,” said Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.) undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “NOAA is proud to be a partner in this international effort that will answer many of our planet’s climate and ocean questions and enrich our life through science.”

The free-drifting profiling floats measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 meters (about 6,000 feet) of the ocean. This allows, for the first time, continuous monitoring of the temperature, salinity, and velocity of the upper ocean, with all data being relayed and made publicly available within hours after collection.

NOAA is committed to maintaining one-half of the worldwide Argo network and supports the United States component of the international program. NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami is a U.S. Argo data center. In Seattle, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory calibrates Argo floats before deployment and monitors quality control.

"Completion of the full implementation of the Argo float program is the first step in a truly global ocean observing system that will help warn society of threatening climate change," said Dr. James Baker, former NOAA administrator. The Argo program began in 1998 during Baker’s tenure at NOAA. Argo’s success will be a highlight of the Ministerial summit meeting of the Group on Earth Observations on Nov. 30 in Cape Town, South Africa. Lautenbacher is slated to attend that meeting. The Argo array has been deployed by collaboration of more than 30 countries and the European Union.

One benefit from Argo has been a reduction in the uncertainty of ocean heat storage calculations. These are a key factor in determining the rate of global climate warming and sea level rise, and in projecting their future progression. The steady stream of Argo data, coupled with global scale satellite measurements, has also made possible advances in the representation of the oceans in coupled ocean atmosphere models, leading to seasonal climate forecasts and the routine analysis and forecasting of the state of the ocean below the surface.

Argo data are also being used in an ever-widening range of research applications that have led to new insights into how the ocean and atmosphere interact in extreme as well as normal conditions. Two examples are the processes in polar winters when the deep waters that fill most of the ocean basins are formed and, at the other temperature extreme, the transfer of heat and water to the atmosphere beneath tropical cyclones. Both conditions are crucial to global weather and climate and could not be observed by ships.

The Argo array is the centerpiece of the in-place ocean observing system promoted by the Joint Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology, co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organization. Argo is a pilot project of the Global Ocean and Climate Observing Systems.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870’s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.