The Scientific Road to GOOS

Prior to GOOS, the scientific landscape of oceanography was somewhat divided. As Dr. Flemming has observed, there existed a gulf between seemingly exclusive conceptions of oceanography as a scientific research discipline of long-term data gathering and modelling, and one of short-term near real-time information services. While it is easy to exaggerate these differences, Flemming notes that “many of the instruments and innovations needed to achieve the two goals were similar.”[i] Despite the seemingly disparate missions, an opportunity was available to unite the two intellectual tribes in a complementary arrangement, maximising efficiency. This would be one of the great focuses and successes of GOOS and EuroGOOS: the minimisation and elimination of waste and duplication in information gathering.[ii]

The process of creating GOOS and EuroGOOS was essentially one of rationalising and coordinating existing scientific projects and technologies into a common framework which utilised these resources with greater economy. “Towards Operational Oceanography: The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS),” expressed it thus:

“In parts the necessary observational systems do exist; but they are either for national purposes unconnected with the global issue or are in support of a succession of short-term research projects with limited objectives and geographical extent.”[iii]

This fragmentary state of affairs was advantageous for GOOS in some respects, as Dr. Flemming writes, as “[p]oliticians and research councils were reluctant to found totally new bodies,” what was required were “ways of building on existing programmes and agencies, while grafting on the minimum of structures to handle the real-time operational information flow.”[iv] Many of the data sets and instrumental arrays required for GOOS had their roots in pre-existing global co-operative experiments like the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere programme (TOGA), the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), the Global Ecosystem Experiment (GLOBEC), and the Climate Variability and Predictability programme (CLIVAR).[v] However, there was a need to overcome limitations in the then contemporary practices of oceanography, moving beyond the short-term thinking of project-based funding and the constraints of monitoring on a purely national level.

In 1986 the European Commission commenced EUROMAR, a fifteen year funding programme intended to boost the growth of marine industrial capabilities, and in 1989 began funding a Marine Science and Technology (MAST) programme intended to support the technological development required for deeper examination and understanding of marine systems.[vi] Both of these were key factors in producing a scientific and technical substrate on which EuroGOOS could begin operating.

In the years preceding EuroGOOS and the nascence of operational oceanography in its present form, organisations and agreements such as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the United Nations Environment Programme Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP-MAP), and the Oslo and Paris Commission (OSPARCOM) were formed around the services (archival data, data exchange, etc.) that EuroGOOS would work extensively to provide. [vii] These compacts, agreements, and associations provided an invaluable stepping stone and learning process on the way to realising the vision for EuroGOOS.

[i] Apollonia on My Mind. p. 378

[ii] Apollonia on My Mind. p. 378.

[iii] (1996). Towards Operational Oceanography: The Global Ocean Observation Commission (GOOS), Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Paris, France. pp. 2-3

[iv] Apollonia on My Mind, p. 368.

[v] The GOOS 1998, p. viii

[vi] The GOOS 1998, p. 114

[vii] Woods, J.D., Dahlin, Hans, Droppert, L., Glass, M., Vallerga, S., Flemming, N.C. (1996). The Strategy for EuroGOOS, Southampton Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK. pp. 29-30