NOAA 99-39
Contact: Matt Stout


The National Ocean Research Leadership Council has released a report to Congress calling for an integrated ocean observing system that would routinely gather ocean information similar to the information gathered for atmospheric weather forecasting, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today. The Council is composed of officials from 12 federal ocean agencies, including NOAA.

An integrated ocean observing system would move ocean observations from a research- focused activity towards an operational system. The report, "Toward a U.S. Plan for an Integrated, Sustained Ocean Observing System," calls for sustaining existing ocean observations, integrating new and existing observations, and adapting this system to meet evolving needs. It also calls for funding of these activities, organizing and managing them, and building private/public sector partnerships.

The report addresses major national needs, such as detecting and forecasting the ocean's role in climate, facilitating safe and efficient marine operations, ensuring healthy and restored degraded marine ecosystems, mitigating natural hazards, and ensuring public health.

"We currently have a sustained operational atmospheric observing system that has enabled us to dramatically improve atmospheric weather forecasts. We have invested in operational ocean observing systems in the Pacific that have enabled us to provide successful El Niño-based seasonal atmospheric forecasts. This report calls on us to take the next step and expand the operational systems to the global ocean," said D. James Baker, Commerce undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere.

"A robust ocean observation system is vital to the success of naval operations and fundamental to our national security," said RAdm. Paul G. Gaffney II, chief of Naval Research. "We have some of the most comprehensive ocean and atmospheric data sets in the world today; however, we continue to need even more sophisticated and timely ocean data to ensure safe operations and to optimize performance."

"Today we're releasing a letter, signed by almost 1800 individuals from a diverse and expansive ocean community, to the Congress and Administration. The letter demonstrates that the oceanographic community is committed to working with the Congress and Administration to implement an integrated ocean observing system and to advance our understanding of our greatest natural resource, the oceans," said James D. Watkins, Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired) and president of CORE.

CORE is the D.C.-based organization that represents 59 academic institutions, aquaria, non-profit research institutes and federal research laboratories in the common goal of promoting the visibility and effectiveness of U.S. ocean research and education. Congressmen Jim Saxton (R-Pa.) and Weldon (R-N.J.) also announced today they will hold hearings on this ocean observing system proposal this summer.

" I am pleased to see the release today of a plan for an integrated ocean observing system. Such a system would lead to a vastly improved understanding of the Earth's climate and ocean systems. This plan was prepared after the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans held a hearing on the current state of U.S. ocean observations last summer," said Congressman Jim Saxton. " One of the premier sites for designing and testing the equipment that will form the basis for large scale ocean observation systems is LEO-15 [Long-term Ecological Observatory at 15 meters]. LEO-15 lies off the coast of the congressional district that I represent, and I have long supported the work that is done there. Now I look forward to supporting a larger more comprehensive effort to observe and understand the complex environment of the ocean."

The report is in response to a request from Congressmen Weldon and Saxton, who in August 1998 sent a letter to Undersecretary Baker and Navy Secretary John Dalton requesting that the National Ocean Research Leadership Council (NORLC) "propose a plan to achieve a truly integrated ocean observing system."

The NORLC consists of the heads of 12 federal agencies that are involved in funding ocean research policy. The agencies include: U.S. Navy, NOAA, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U.S. Geological Survey, Minerals Management Service, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Coast Guard, and Department of Energy.