Develop a vigorous, interdisciplinary ocean and coastal research program and cutting-edge research infrastructure.
Over the last century, human activities have increasingly produced serious chemical, physical, and biological changes in the oceans. Water and air pollution are adding to the oceans vast quantities of fertilizers and pesticides that modify the chemistry of ocean water, particularly along the coasts. Overfishing, habitat destruction, invasive species, and pollution are contributing to the decline of fish, marine mammals, and other species and reducing the biological diversity of marine ecosystems. And climate change has the potential to produce changes in ocean temperature, salinity, sea level, circulation patterns, and other physical characteristics vital to marine and terrestrial life.
Issues such as Pfiesteria outbreaks, red tides, brown tides, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, introductions of nonindigenous species, and preserving Pacific salmon highlight the limits of our present scientific understanding. Fortunately, powerful new technologies are enhancing our ability to manage our precious marine resources and answer immediately pressing and long-term questions about preserving biodiversity, climate change, and other critical issues facing us in the 21st century. We can harness advanced information theory and computational systems to assemble and analyze data. We can use new tools from gene sequencers to autonomous vehicles and global satellites to simultaneously explore questions about the oceans at subcellular and global scales.
Because the oceans are characterized by complex interacting physical, chemical, and biological systems, research to understand ocean processes cuts across many different scientific fields. A number of federal agencies have interests in ocean research, and each agency funds research that meets its specific mission needs.
Ocean research could benefit from coordinated research programs across agencies and disciplinary boundaries. To encourage such coordination, in 1997 Congress established a new National Ocean Partnership Program. The heads of twelve agencies oversee a program that provides funding for new government/industry/university partnerships in research and education. In addition, the National Science and technology Council's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is focusing on improved interagency coordination with its FY 2000 budget initiative, Integrated Science for Ecosystem Challenges. One component of this program is slated to increase research on harmful algal blooms and other coastal water quality issues. The National Ocean Partnership Program and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources provide mechanisms by which agencies can agree on priorities for cooperative ocean research. Early efforts have been promising, but more needs to be done.
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