The oceans are very sparsely sampled in space and time, yet many fundamental questions of both scientific and practical importance depend on understanding change and variability at time-scales from days to decades, and from local to regional to global scales.
The NOC has world-leading programmes of long-term, global-scale ocean observations. We combine measurements from a range of platforms and techniques to build a complete picture of the complex nature of our oceans. We observe the surface ocean from satellites, which give very good spatial coverage with a few days between satellite passes. Instruments moored to the sea-floor, or at coastal sites, give us very detailed information about changes over time at a few, carefully-chosen locations in the oceans. Research vessels, and surface and underwater robots (gliders and other autonomous vehicles) are used to carry out detailed surveys. Drifting buoys (that drift around close to the sea surface) and floats (that float around at around 2,000m depth), along with opportunistic use of commercial ships, help us measure the rest of the ocean.
An important priority is reducing the dependence of oceanographers on expensive research ships for the routine, long-term measurements. The NOC is leading the development of autonomous vehicles that are increasing our ability to measure the ocean at the space and time scales that we require. We are also contributing towards the development of multiple new technologies (visit our technology section for more information).
The NOC’s ocean observations contribute to the Global Ocean Observing System and the measurement of the Essential Ocean Variables needed for understanding, predicting and managing climate change, operational services, and marine ecosystem health.
The UK has developed a research programme in the Atlantic Ocean the Climate Linked Atlantic Sector Science (CLASS) that brings together many of the UK’s sustained ocean observation systems and platforms in a coherent and sustained programme: a blueprint for other nations to follow.
The Porcupine Abyssal Plain Sustained Observatory (PAP-SO) is a sustained, multidisciplinary observatory in the North Atlantic coordinated by the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. For over 20 years the observatory has provided key time series datasets for analysing the effect of climate change on the open ocean and deep-sea ecosystems.
Additional sustained ocean observations are carried out under a Southern Ocean Research Programme ORCHESTRA and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current Drake Passage Section
The large-scale ocean circulation (the meridional overturning circulation) is observed by a flagship programme; the RAPID array.