Operational Oceanography can be defined as the activity of systematic and long-term routine measurements of the seas and oceans and atmosphere, and their rapid interpretation and dissemination.
Important products derived from operational oceanography are:
- nowcasts providing the most usefully accurate description of the present state of the sea including living resources
- forecasts providing continuous forecasts of the future condition of the sea for as far ahead as possible
- hindcasts assembling long term data sets which will provide data for description of past states, and time series showing trends and changes
Operational Oceanography usually proceeds by the rapid transmission of observational data to data assimilation centres. There, powerful computers using numerical forecasting models process the data. The outputs from the models are used to generate data products, often through intermediary value-adding organisations. Examples of final products include warnings (of coastal floods, ice and storm damage, harmful algal blooms and contaminants, etc.), electronic charts, optimum routes for ships, prediction of seasonal or annual primary productivity, ocean currents, ocean climate variability etc. The final products and forecasts must be distributed rapidly to industrial users, government agencies, and regulatory authorities.