NOAA 2000-067
Contact: Maureen O'Leary

Ocean Stewardship Cited as a National Priority; Congressional Approval of Funding Essential

The first of several probes is being launched into the oceans to help weather forecasters and scientists better understand the world's climates, announced U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. The Argo Ocean Profiling Network is an international effort to collect and share information on the temperature, currents, and salinity - or saltiness – of the world's oceans that will be used to better predict the influence of events such as El Niño and La Niña on our seasonal climate. The U.S. has committed to providing at least one-third of the 3,000 float network over the next three years.

"The oceans are an indispensable link to our daily lives and America's prosperity," Secretary Mineta said. "To continue to reap the oceans' riches, yet preserve their fragile assets for future generations, we must consider a course change that includes, exploration, protection, and education."

"Floating sensors, small as they may appear, are actually giants in the field of ocean and climate information collecting," D. James Baker, NOAA administrator. "We will no longer have to wait months and years for data deep in the ocean from ships. The floats will collect data – more measurements than we are currently gathering – and send the information back in real-time."

Since weather and climate are linked to the ocean, data from the floating observing systems will increase our knowledge of long-term temperatures as well as help us to better prepare for major climate events such as hurricanes and El Niño – that affect human safety, food production, water management, and transportation.

The United States' Argo floats will be joined by other floats from Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, the European Community, India, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Spain. Scientists have determined that 3,000 floats are needed for the full global observing array. The goal is to have the entire array of floats drifting and bobbing throughout the world's ice-free oceans by 2003.

Each float is programmed to sink a mile into the ocean, drifting at that depth for about 10 days, then slowly rise, measuring temperature and salinity through the layers as it makes its way to the surface. At the surface, data is transmitted to a communications satellite and the probe begins another cycle. Each float is designed to last 4-5 years. Argo floats can be deployed from ships or by aircraft.

All data transmitted from the Argo network are fully and openly available. The U.S. and all other countries will have immediate access to data from each float without any restrictions or period of exclusive use.

The Argo network will enhance NOAA's extensive ocean observing system. Information this system collected led to successful seasonal climate forecasts for the United States during the 1997-98 El Niño, six months in advance. Early warnings from this system saved money and lives worldwide – California suffered $1.1 billion in damage from floods, half the amount of the non-forecast El Niño of ‘82-‘83.

"The Argo floats are the logical next step," said David Evans, NOAA assistant administrator for oceans and atmospheric research. "Data from Argo's global system will be integrated into an ocean observations network and help forecasters better predict El Niño and other climate events throughout the world."

The U.S. contribution to Argo is funded by NOAA and the Office of Naval Research through the National Oceanographic Partnership Program. Argo is being implemented by NOAA, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Washington, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Argo builds upon more than a decade of investment in the development of float technology on the part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment as funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

The project was named Argo to complement the Jason-1 satellite, a joint project between NASA and France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, to be launched early next year. Argo was the ship of the mythological Greek hero Jason.