National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

100 years of progress in ocean observing systems

Davis, R.E., L. Talley, D. Roemmich, W.B. Owens, D.L. Rudnick, R. Weller, J. Steele, M.J. McPhaden, and J. Barth

AMS Meteorological Monographs, 59(1), 3.1–3.46, doi: 10.1175/AMSMONOGRAPHS-D-18-0014.1, View online (2020)

The history of over 100 years of observing the ocean is reviewed. The evolution of particular classes of ocean measurements (e.g., shipboard hydrography, moorings, and drifting floats) are summarized along with some of the discoveries and dynamical understanding they made possible. By the 1970s, isolated and “expedition” observational approaches were evolving into experimental campaigns that covered large ocean areas and addressed multiscale phenomena using diverse instrumental suites and associated modeling and analysis teams. The Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment (MODE) addressed mesoscale “eddies” and their interaction with larger-scale currents using new ocean modeling and experiment design techniques and a suite of developing observational methods. Following MODE, new instrument networks were established to study processes that dominated ocean behavior in different regions. The Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere program gathered multiyear time series in the tropical Pacific to understand, and eventually predict, evolution of coupled ocean–atmosphere phenomena like El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) sought to quantify ocean transport throughout the global ocean using temperature, salinity, and other tracer measurements along with fewer direct velocity measurements with floats and moorings. Western and eastern boundary currents attracted comprehensive measurements, and various coastal regions, each with its unique scientific and societally important phenomena, became home to regional observing systems. Today, the trend toward networked observing arrays of many instrument types continues to be a productive way to understand and predict large-scale ocean phenomena.

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