Copyright: Olha Rohulya

An ocean of knowledge

Contributions by the European science community to the ocean sciences as seen from Japan

To understand the ocean we need to understand the mechanisms underlying the spatial distributions and changes in velocity, temperature, salinity and the chemical composition which determines the nutrients avaliable for ocean life. We also need to examine different scales – from river inlet to global ocean, hours towaves decades. The local processes with short time scales are affected by their surroundings, dominated by big scale procresses, and vice versa. This suggests that well coordinated global ocean monitoring systems with high resolution are necessary to understand and predict the variation of oceanic state. While the US has been the main player in the ocean science, huge projects covering the global ocean need participation of many countries under international projects.

From 1990 to 1998, the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) was conducted as a part of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) with participation of nearly 30 countries. WOCE was a true international project and the European countries made large contributions.

Argos, the satellite service for environmental data collection, ocean observations and monitoring is provided by a subsidiary of the French Space Agency (CNES), the French Research Institute for exploration of the sea (IFREMER) and several French financial institutions. Argos has been playing a key role in real time monitoring of the ocean surface current using surface drifting buoys since 1980s. Argos is also the main system in the international Argo project. Argo is a global array of about 3,000 free-drifting profiling floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 metres of the ocean.

The European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) is a contributing member to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), an international marine research program started from 2003. The purpose of IODP is to explore the Earth’s history and structure as recorded in seafloor sediments and rocks, and to monitor sub-seafloor environments.

In September 2009, the OceanObs’09 Conference was held at Venice, Italy, with more than 600 scientists from 36 nations. The conference helped to build a common vision for the provision of routine and sustained global information on the marine environment, sufficient to meet society’s needs for describing, understanding and forecasting marine variability (including physical, biogeochemical, ecosystems and living marine resources), weather, seasonal to decadal climate variability, climate change, sustainable management of living marine resources, and assessment of longer term trends. The European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and CNES supported this conference together with other international organizations including the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO and the World Meteorology Organization (WMO).

Many European organisations and scientists have contributed to international scientific projects for ocean science, not only on the global scale processes described above but also on the local processes. However, many people outside of Europe, especially in Japan,are unaware of these contributions despite their strong respects for European culture. This could be due to the fact that the ocean science has not been well recognised in Japan due to lack of ocean science education. Another reason may be that there are very few European scientists and organisations that engage with Japan in comparison to the US.

Hiroshi Ichikawa is writing a blog in Japanese on ocean science education for younger people and is acting as a member of the Ocean Literacy and Education panel of the Oceanographic Society of Japan.

Featured image credit: Olha Rohulya via Shutterstock

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Hiroshi Ichikawa

Hiroshi is an ocean-going physical oceanographer since 1979. His major research interest during his career at Kagoshima University was the Kuroshio current in the East China Sea. From 2005 to present his research at JAMSTEC focuses on air-sea interactions in the North Pacific, especially in the Kuroshio and Kuroshio Extension region.

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