National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2023

Effects of the pandemic on observing the global ocean

Boyer, T., H.-M. Zhang, K. O’Brien, J. Reagan, S. Diggs, E. Freeman, H. Garcia, E. Heslop, P. Hogan, B. Huang, L.Q. Jiang, A. Kozyr, C. Liu, R. Locarnini, A. Mishonov, C. Paver, Z. Wang, M. Zweng, S. Alin, L. Barbero, J.A. Barth, M. Belbeoch, J. Cebrian, K. Connell, R. Cowley, D. Dukhovskoy, N.R. Galbraith, G. Goni, F. Katz, M. Kramp, A. Kumar, D. Legler, R. Lumpkin, C. McMahon, D. Pierrot, D.J. Plueddemann, E.A. Smith, A. Sutton, V. Turpin, L. Jiang, V. Suneel, R. Wanninkhof, R.A. Weller, and A.P. Wong

Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 104(2), E389–E410, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-21-0210.1, View online at AMS (external link) (2023)

The years since 2000 have been a golden age in in situ ocean observing with the proliferation and organization of autonomous platforms such as surface drogued buoys and subsurface Argo profiling floats augmenting ship-based observations. Global time series of mean sea surface temperature and ocean heat content are routinely calculated based on data from these platforms, enhancing our understanding of the ocean’s role in Earth’s climate system. Individual measurements of meteorological, sea surface, and subsurface variables directly improve our understanding of the Earth system, weather forecasting, and climate projections. They also provide the data necessary for validating and calibrating satellite observations. Maintaining this ocean observing system has been a technological, logistical, and funding challenge. The global COVID-19 pandemic, which took hold in 2020, added strain to the maintenance of the observing system. A survey of the contributing components of the observing system illustrates the impacts of the pandemic from January 2020 through December 2021. The pandemic did not reduce the short-term geographic coverage (days to months) capabilities mainly due to the continuation of autonomous platform observations. In contrast, the pandemic caused critical loss to longer-term (years to decades) observations, greatly impairing the monitoring of such crucial variables as ocean carbon and the state of the deep ocean. So, while the observing system has held under the stress of the pandemic, work must be done to restore the interrupted replenishment of the autonomous components and plan for more resilient methods to support components of the system that rely on cruise-based measurements.

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