Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A – 25 August 2014, NOC papers


Review papers by two NOC scientists were published this week in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A.

The special feature ‘A Prospectus for UK Marine Sustained Observations’ reflects on the contribution that UK sustained observations of the ocean have made to science and society, and presents a vision for their future.

Dr Mark Tamisiea, along with colleagues based at the NOC in Liverpool and the University of Nottingham, explore the role of geodetic observations in understanding sea level change in their contribution.

Tide gauge data, which has the distinction of being some of the longest instrumental ocean records, allows us to identify the century-scale rise in global sea level. More recently, satellite altimetry has helped us to better identify the rates and causes of sea level rise and the spatial variability of the trends. Analysis of all of the data reveals the need for long-term and stable observation systems to assess accurately the regional changes as well as to improve our ability to estimate future changes in sea level.

Dr Mark Tamisiea commented “Understanding sea level change is exciting puzzle, with data from tide gauges, GPS receivers, satellite altimetry, and satellite gravity missions giving us different ways to look at the problem. The science of geodesy uses observations of the Earth’s shape, gravity field and rotation to better understand the Earth, and it gives us the framework to combine the different sea-level observations, whether they are separated by great distances, such as 10,000 km, or lengths of time, such as 100 years. The stability of this framework depends heavily upon sustained observations, and thus they are vital for determining how global average sea level has risen over the 100 years and how it will change in the future.”

Dr Stephanie Henson, based at the NOC in Southampton, considers ‘slow science’ and its value for ocean biogeochemistry.

Sustained observations have provided invaluable information on the ocean’s biology and biogeochemistry for over 50 years. They continue to play a vital role in elucidating the functioning of the marine ecosystem, particularly in the light of ongoing climate change. This paper highlights some of the key breakthroughs in biological oceanography of the past, present and future that have been enabled by long biological records. We are now entering a new era for biological observations, one in which our motivations have evolved from the need to acquire basic understanding of the ocean’s state and variability, to a need to understand ocean biogeochemistry in the context of increasing pressure in the form of climate change, overfishing and eutrophication.

“Slow science, the kind that takes decades of observing the ocean, is often undervalued simply because it does take a long time. But without it we would have no way of knowing about the natural variability in ocean biology, or have a chance of detecting the effects of climate change. I feel strongly that the UK and its international partners need to keep making these observations and that the scientific community needs to increase awareness that slow science is incredibly valuable. That’s why I was honoured to be asked by the Challenger Society to contribute my thoughts on the unique perspective of ocean biology provided by long records. I hope the paper will provide food for thought for anyone interested in understanding why it’s so important that we remain committed to making these sustained observations into the future.”