The GEO Strategic Plan 2016-2025 identifies eight societal benefit areas. The oceans play a vital role in every one: Disaster Resilience; Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture; Water Resources; Energy and Mineral Resources; Public Health Surveillance; Biodiversity and Ecosystem Sustainability; Sustainable Urban Development; and Infrastructure and Transportation. For example, ocean-related hazards such as tsunamis, storm surges, and extreme waves require ocean observations for early warning systems and to prepare for and mitigate the effects of disasters. Because of their role in climate, ocean observations also provide important information for the forecasts of precipitation and drought, the source of replenishment of water supplies, and of climate events that can lead to public health incidents or changes in energy demand. Ocean biological observations are critical in monitoring the health of ocean ecosystems and biodiversity, and the way ecosystem services are being impacted by a changing environment. They are also important in managing fisheries and aquaculture. In addition, observations of the ocean are critical for monitoring climate variability and change, and for generating forecasts and projections of climate that can be used in climate services. Ocean observations help improve predictions of longer-range forecasts of weather. Finally, oceans impinge on various cross-cutting initiatives in GEO, such as system architecture and capacity building.
Although various successful marine activities were conducted under earlier GEO Tasks in previous Work Plans, they were uncoordinated and often overlooked. In short, oceans did not receive the prominence they deserved. Furthermore, the distribution of the tasks in multiple SBAs did not facilitate integration and synergy between elements. The Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) worked hard to have this situation reversed, so that oceans would be accorded their proper place in the GEO arena. In addition, from a communications point of view, it was felt that speaking with a common voice for the oceans would be more effective than fragmented messages. The creation of the “Oceans and Society: Blue Planet” Task was started by the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) in 2011, to coordinate all the existing ocean observation programmes within GEO, to add new ones to the GEO portfolio, and to create synergies between them. The Task was developed further over the past few years by POGO, in collaboration with other marine interests, notably the Committee on Earth Observing Satellites (CEOS), the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE) OceanView and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). Blue Planet will build on its initial success as a Task in the GEO 2012-2015 Work Plan, in galvanising the ocean observing community and enhancing the visibility of ocean observations within GEO. In its next phase, it will add value to the work already being carried out, by developing synergies between its different components and with other parts of the GEO Work Programme, and by strengthening its focus on delivering products and services to the user communities. This was agreed at the 2nd Blue Planet Symposium, which was hosted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Cairns, Australia, from 27 to 29 May 2015.
In summary, Blue Planet is the ideal facilitator to enhance the coordination among the different global initiatives relevant to ocean observations and is also the ideal place to identify and reach actual end users and jointly work with them to understand and address their needs. We believe Blue Planet, through GEO, provides the right framework for creating synergies among different groups and, most importantly, linking them with policy makers.
Activities for 2016 (and beyond)
Blue Planet envisions an informed society that recognises the oceans’ crucial role in Earth's life-support system and is committed to stewardship of the oceans for a healthy, safe and prosperous future for all. Blue Planet’s Mission is to advance and exploit synergies among the many observational programmes devoted to ocean, coastal and inland waters; to improve engagement with a variety of users for enhancing the timeliness, quality and range of services delivered; and to raise awareness of the societal benefits of ocean observations at the public and policy levels.
“Oceans and Society: Blue Planet” will add value to existing observational programmes by:
Through 2016 and beyond, Blue Planet seeks to create an end-to-end service that (1) builds the capacity required for ocean observations, (2) collects data from observations, (3) manages the data and makes them widely available, and (4) transforms the data into information, products and services to be used by a variety of stakeholders for the benefit of society. This requires a close collaboration between the different partners contributing to Blue Planet. In particular, POGO, International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE) and Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) play a significant role in developing the capacity required to expand ocean observations worldwide. GOOS and POGO are responsible for a large fraction of the deployment and coordination of observing systems in the open ocean; CEOS is responsible for coordination of global space-based observation of ocean and coastal zones across 31 space agencies; and CZCP focuses on the coastal zone. GODAE Ocean View coordinates the ocean forecasting efforts.
Finally, although progress has been made, there is much more work to be done to galvanise the ocean observing community, to highlight the importance of the ocean observations for policymakers and for society-at-large, and to bring products and services to users that are tailored to their needs. We already know how to observe the ocean in all its aspects, including physics, chemistry, geology, and to a lesser extent biology, at the required time and space scales. We have the ability to sample the remotest parts of the oceans, from pole to pole and into the deepest ocean trenches. However, the sustained network of coastal and deep-sea observations is unevenly distributed, and has serious gaps. There is therefore an urgent need for the scientific community to agree, for example, on the variables that need to be measured (Essential Ocean Variables) and to implement these in a systematic, sustained and globally-distributed manner.
Thus, in its new phase, the Blue Planet Initiative will have a stronger focus on user engagement and will facilitate the two-way communication between data and information providers and various user communities, by 1) identifying the users for different types and sources of data and information, (2) actively seeking their feedback on what they need and how and in what format it should be delivered to them, and (3) sharing information, advice and best practices on user engagement within the Blue Planet community. This coordination and advisory role will be taken on by a dedicated User Engagement group/component within the new structure.
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