Commission's Recommendations on Ocean Science

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Publication date: 
6 July 2004

As reported in FYI #90, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy has released a preliminary version of what its Chairman, Admiral James Watkins, referred to as "a blueprint for a coordinated, comprehensive national ocean policy for the 21st century." The commission views improved funding, coordination, and infrastructure for ocean and coastal science as a vital aspect of the policy. Four chapters of the commission's report are devoted to "Science-based Decisions: Advancing Our Understanding of the Oceans."

Highlights of the four science chapters and a summary of the related recommendations follow:

Chapter 25: Creating a National Strategy for Increasing Scientific Knowledge

The commission's report finds that "the United States does not have a national strategy for ocean and coastal research, exploration, and marine operations that can integrate ongoing efforts, promote synergies among federal, state, and local governments, academia, and the private sector, translate scientific and technological advances into operational applications, and establish national goals and objectives for addressing high-priority issues."

In addition to a doubling of federal funding for ocean and coastal research over the next five years (to $1.3 billion annually), the commission recommends: developing a long-term national ocean research strategy and budgets; creating a program to study the economic and social science dimensions of ocean policy; making NOAA and NSF the lead agencies of an expanded national ocean exploration program; and creating standardized, easily accessible maps of ocean and coastal features.

Chapter 26: Achieving a Sustained, Integrated Ocean Observing System

According to the report, "the implementation of a sustained national Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS) is overdue and should begin immediately." Such a system would be "a complex amalgam of many different land-, water-, air- and space-based facilities and technologies."

The commission's recommendations include: congressional authorization of an "Ocean.US" federal interagency office within NOAA to seek input, develop plans, and establish a core set of variables for an IOOS, which would also be operated and funded as part of NOAA. The IOOS should be coordinated into a national Earth observing system, and should cooperate with international ocean observation activities. Additionally, the commission says that NASA, while still responsible for the engineering and development of space-based Earth observation satellites, should transfer satellites to NOAA for operational control.

Chapter 27: Enhancing Ocean Infrastructure and Technology Development

The commission believes that "a unified national strategy can help achieve and maintain an appropriate mix of federally supported, modern ocean facilities that meet the nation's needs for quality resource management, science, and assessment."

The commission recommends: development of a national ocean and coastal infrastructure and technology strategy, with assessments every five years; creation of a modernization fund for critical ocean infrastructure and technology needs; and establishment by NOAA of national virtual marine technology centers and an Office of Technology "to expedite the transition of experimental technologies into operational applications."

Chapter 28: Modernizing Ocean Data and Information Systems

"There are two major challenges facing data managers today," the report says: "the exponentially growing volume of data...and the need for timely accessibility of these data to the user community in a variety of useful formats."

The commission recommends the following: a federal interagency planning organization ("Ocean.IT") should take the lead in ocean and coastal data and information management; NOAA and the Navy should establish a joint program to generate information products relevant to national, regional and local needs; a federally-supported system should be implemented for accessing ocean and coastal data and federally-funded investigators should be required to submit data in a timely manner; the Navy should periodically declassify appropriate oceanographic data for civilian scientific use; and an interagency task force should plan for modernizing the national environmental data system.

The committee's preliminary report, issued in April, is available at It runs nearly 400 pages plus appendices. No date has yet been announced for release of the final report.

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