Taking the Ocean’s Pulse: A Vision for the Canadian Biogeochemical Argo Program

Type Report
Date 2017
Language English
Author(s) Fennel KatjaORCID1, Greenan Blair2
Affiliation(s) 1 : Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
2 : Bedford Institut of Oceanography, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Dartmouth, Canada
DOI 10.13155/52451
Publisher Ifremer

The international Argo Program, described in the NYTimes as one of the scientific triumphs of our time (Gillis, J., 12 August 2014, In the Ocean, Clues to Change, New York Times, D3), has fundamentally transformed our ability to measure interior properties of the ocean. Argo is a global array of almost 4,000 autonomous profilers measuring temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 m. These observations are relayed by satellite and available within hours of collection. While traditional sampling from research vessels is important, it is too infrequent and geographically limited to observe the dynamic and rapidly changing ocean adequately. Satellites provide broad-scale views, but are limited to the surface and in terms of the properties they can observe. Over the past two decades, Argo floats have collected over a million profiles of temperature and salinity, twice the number obtained by research vessels during all of the 20th century. These unprecedented views of the ocean’s interior physical properties have enabled quantification of ocean warming due to climate change, and resulted in significant improvements in ocean and weather forecasting.

The ocean’s biogeochemical properties are also changing rapidly, with profound impacts on ecosystems and climate, but to date, our ability to observe these changes is limited. The proposed biogeochemical extension of the Argo network (BGC-Argo) would revolutionize our ability to observe the ocean’s changing biogeochemical state by enabling us to observe seasonal to decadal-scale variability in biological productivity, ocean acidification, and ocean deoxygenation, as well as allowing quantification of the ocean’s uptake of CO2.

In 2016, the Science Plan for BGC-Argo was formulated by an international group of experts; the plan calls for an additional 1000 biogeochemical floats that would measure pH, oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll, suspended particles and light. The biogeochemical extension of Argo has been specifically mentioned by the G7 Science Ministers in their Tsukuba Communiqué in May 2016, which calls for an enhanced and sustained global observing system that integrates new chemical and biological observations, while sustaining critical ongoing observations.

In January 2017, a group of scientists from the Canadian federal government and universities gathered to discuss opportunities for Canada that arise from the international BGC-Argo initiative. Their recommendations are summarized in this document. It is clear that Canada is well positioned to play a leadership role in an expanded global ocean measurement program, and that the nation would derive significant scientific and technological benefits from it. In addition to addressing fundamental questions about our changing ocean—questions that have significant societal implications—the program holds economic opportunities for Canada’s vibrant and thriving ocean economy sector.

Specific recommendations for Canada are:

1) Actively strive to maintain and enhance our position as an international leader in ocean observation through strong participation in the global BGC-Argo program.

2) Enhance Canadian scientific capacity in biogeochemical modelling and prediction, in order to capitalize fully on the potential of BGC-Argo.

3) For Canada to reap maximum scientific and societal benefit from BGC-Argo, ample training opportunities for young scientists should be provided, which would also help to ensure that “eyes are on the data” at all times.

4) Ensure free and near real-time access to the emerging data streams through properly resourcing data management.

5) Form a national BGC-Argo steering committee to facilitate communication within the Canadian user community.

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How to cite 

Fennel Katja, Greenan Blair (2017). Taking the Ocean’s Pulse: A Vision for the Canadian Biogeochemical Argo Program. https://doi.org/10.13155/52451