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Operational Oceanography

This post isn't about a published paper as per usual, but it is about an exciting new program that the UP MSI plans to offer sometime in the future: https://bit.ly/2Af77kq.

This program is especially critical if we want to move forward as a country not only in marine science, but also to help address a lot of our socio-economic and environmental issues. This new program will build sorely needed capacity in operational oceanography. 

Operational oceanography is the

systematic and long-term routine measurements of the seas and oceans and atmosphere, and their rapid interpretation and dissemination."

-European Global Ocean Observation System

The capacity for continuous and standardized measurements of different properties of our oceans, freshwater resources and atmosphere is critical if we want to understand many different phenomena like rainfall, our monsoons, and typhoons, or the state of our seas especially how their properties are being affected by pollution and climate change. 

Why is it critical to have "systematic" and "long-term" data? Well, imagine that you are a fisheries manager in some government agency who's been tasked to figure out if a particular site would be a good mariculture site for bangus fish cages. The site is in a channel with no mariculture activities so far. Some key seawater properties that need to be investigated to determine if the area would be suitable are water flow, depth, nutrient levels, and dissolved oxygen levels. To simplify things, let's just consider dissolved oxygen for now since your supervisor said they obtained some historical data on this for the site. When you check out the data on dissolved oxygen it looks like this:

*Note: This is just simulated data

See anything that would make you NOT recommend the site? The data obviously is spotty within the 10 year span of the dataset. Sampling was done manually with people going to the site three times (three months) in a year. Not once was there an episode where the dissolved oxygen level went below the 2 parts per million (ppm) mark which indicates hypoxia or low oxygen levels that would be detrimental to marine life. One close one in April of 2019, but otherwise everything looks ok.  

But what if an ocean observation system had been operating in the site since a decade ago that had been measuring water properties consistently all this time? Would the recommendation remain the same? 

This is now the full dataset, and there are some very distinct patterns we can see now. One is the seasonality in the level of dissolved oxygen: it increases then dips especially during the warmer months. Another key thing is that there are now at least 3 times when it became hypoxic; the last two happened in the past 2 years. 

If we actually analyze this data further, we will see an incremental decrease in dissolved oxygen through time (and yes, there is one since I generated that data 🙂 ). 

A pattern like this can possibly be seen in the real world together with warming waters which leads to less oxygen dissolved in seawater.

So would you still recommend this site for bangus fish cages?

The point of that little thought exercise was to highlight how important long-term time-series information is to understand what's going on in the state of our environment and ecosystems, and their use in practical decisions needed for many different plans and activities for the government, industry and coastal communities. Closer to my own work, systems like this are so important for understanding, forecasting and managing harmful algal bloom risks. How is it that an archipelagic country like us that's so dependent in may ways on our oceans doesn't have such an ocean observation system like this in place already? Hopefully, academic programs like this and some of our on-going projects would help build-up our operational oceanography capacity.

If you're interested in this program, help us fit it to your needs by answering our interest + needs assessment survey. Answer survey here: https://forms.gle/eN7fbi8YY9myYjJfA