Science & Hi Tech: Global observing system hits milestone with 1,000th Argo
Posted on 29.12.2003 - 17:28 EST in SCIENCE & TECH NEWS by Rons_ROV_Links
Dec. 29, 2003 — As a new year approaches, a landmark achievement in international
cooperation and implementation of a global observing system has been realized—the 1,000th Argo float is in operation. NOAA
is one of the chief participants in implementing the ocean-sensing Argo array.
The international program has a goal of
placing 3,000 Argo floats throughout the world’s oceans by 2006. Argo floats function as robots, collecting and
distributing data on weather and ocean phenomena that are critical to safety and economies.
“The global array of 3,000 Argo floats is a key element of our global ocean observing system, by achieving one-third of
that array, we reached an important milestone,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary
of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “With 1,000 instruments now in operation we are beginning to
get a better synoptic picture, or snapshot, of what is happening beneath the surface of the world’s oceans."
The Argo array is part of the Global Climate Observing System/Global Ocean Observing System (GCOS/GOOS), composed of
orbiting, sea-based and land-based environmental sensing devices. Data collected from the floats are used by researchers
in many scientific disciplines, including the study of meteorology, climatology and oceanography.
Argo floats are the oceanic equivalent of atmospheric weather balloons. The data they collect during their lifetime enable
continuous monitoring of circulation and climate patterns in the oceans on a global scale. Because weather and climate in
the atmosphere are linked to the ocean, data collected by the Argo floats increase the knowledge of and help to better
prepare for hurricanes, El Niño and other major events that affect human safety, food production, water management and
transportation. Argo data are fully and openly available for all and provide information that every nation can use to
better protect the health and economic welfare of its population.
As with the World Weather Watch program of the World Meteorological Organization, implementation of the Argo array is
accomplished with strong international coordination and collaboration, facilitated by a partnership between the
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the WMO.
In addition to the United States, other nations that either have Argo floats in the water or plan to deploy the
instruments within the next year are Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Mauritius,
New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Commission.
More than 200 scientists from both the research and operational communities met in Tokyo, Japan, in November to exchange
the first results from the analysis of data from the Argo array.
Argo floats are uniquely equipped autonomous instruments that gather information on a global scale, no other system has
been capable of this before. A mechanism housed within the instrument affects its buoyancy, causing it to sink to more
than 6,000 feet below the surface (more than a mile), at which depth it drifts passively for 10 days. The buoyancy
mechanism then triggers it to rise, measuring temperature and salinity along the way, and at the surface an antenna beams
the information to satellites for relay to shore, along with the float's position as determined by the satellite. After
transmitting the data, the unit sinks again to repeat the cycle.
Additionally, the difference between the float’s present reporting position and its position 10 days earlier gives an
estimate of the ocean currents at depth. The floats are built to continue this process for approximately four years. Argo
data are made available within 24 hours after collection on the operational communications system used by the
meteorological services; data are also available via the Internet.
The first Argo floats went into the water in 2000. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., and the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., are major United
States partners in the Argo program, along with the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami,
Fla., and Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research Fleet
Numerical Meteorological and Oceanographic Center.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and
climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part
of the U.S. Department of Commerce.