NOAA 2002-109
Contact: Jana Goldman
8 /30/02
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Global Observing System Hits Milestone with 500th Argo Float Deployment

The important link between global observations and sustainable development was made today by retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. He gave remarks during a session at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, regarding global observing systems which was attended by leaders of international oceanic and atmospheric organizations.

“Through improved data collection and management of our oceans and atmosphere we have been able to make significant strides in improving seasonal forecasts of the impacts of climatic events such as El Niño and we have good prospects for doing the same with the Indian Ocean Dipole,” said Lautenbacher. “The products resulting from these observations will provide key data on climate-related events that can lead to drought or flooding. Such information is essential to sustainable development throughout the world for both developed and developing countries.”

Lautenbacher thanked the leaders attending the meeting for their cooperation and encouraged their continued support in building a global observing system. Attendees of the session included Jose Achache, co-chair of the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) and director of Earth Observation Programs at the European Space agency; Professor Godwin Obasi, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization; and Dr. Patricia Bernal, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Ocean Commission.

“A fully implemented global observing system for climate will give us the tools we need to take the pulse of the planet,” Lautenbacher said. “This challenge lies in our ability to provide one coherent plan which integrates space and in-situ observations across air, land and water. International organizations, such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Meteorological Organization, are the logical places to help facilitate this process, and their new Joint Technical Commission on Oceanography and Marine Meteorology represents a giant step forward in our potential ability to integrate plans for implementation.”

Lautenbacher noted a landmark achievement in international cooperation and implementation of a global observing system – the deployment of the 500th Argo float. The event marks a major milestone in the creation of a global ocean observing system that provides information on weather and ocean phenomena critical to safety and the economy. The international program has a goal of placing 3,000 Argo floats throughout the world’s oceans by 2006. NOAA has been one of the chief proponents of implementing the ocean-sensing array.

The Argo array is part of the Global Climate Observing System/Global Ocean Observing System, composed of orbiting, sea-based, and land-based environmental sensing devices. Data collected from the floats are used by researchers in numerous scientific disciplines including the study of large-scale climatological and weather phenomena, climate change, oceanography and others.

"These instruments are providing more details about our oceans than have ever been amassed before," Lautenbacher said. "Now that there are 500 probing the depths, we’re getting a better picture of what is happening beneath the surface. When we have 3,000, we will have, for the first time, an opportunity to understand the oceans on a global scale."

Over the past year, Lautenbacher has met with leaders of ocean, climate, and space organizations from around the world to promote international cooperation and support for expanding the present global observing system.

"Since weather and climate are linked to the ocean, data collected by the Argo floats will increase our knowledge of and help us better prepare for hurricanes, El Niño and other major events that affect human safety, food production, water management and transportation,” said Lautenbacher. “Argo data will be fully and openly available for all, and will provide information that every nation can better protect the health and economic safety of its population.”

Along with the United States, other countries that either have Argo floats in the water or plan to deploy the instruments within the next year are Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Commission.

The individual Argo floats are uniquely equipped robots that gather information on a global scale, something that no other system has been capable of before. A mechanism housed in the autonomous unit affects its buoyancy, causing it to sink to more than 6,000 feet below the surface (more than a mile), at which depth it drifts passively for 10 days. The buoyancy mechanism then triggers it to rise, measuring the temperature and salinity profiles, and at the surface an antenna beams the information to a satellites for relay to shore.

Additionally, its movement over the 10 days gives an estimate of ocean currents at depth. After transmitting, the unit sinks again to repeat the cycle. The floats are built to continue this process for approximately four years. The Argo data are made available within 24 hours after collection on the operational communications system used by the meteorological services; data are also available via the internet.

"Argo floats are the weather balloons for the ocean," said Stan Wilson, senior scientist with NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service. "The data they collect during their lifetime enables us to continuously monitor weather and climate patterns in the oceans on a global scale."

The first Argo floats went into the water in 2000. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., and the University of Washington are major United States partners in the Argo program, along with NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla., and Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research.

The project was named Argo to complement the Jason-1 satellite, a joint effort between NASA and France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales. Argo was the ship of the mythological Greek hero Jason.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. To learn more about NOAA, please visit For more information about Argo, visit: