NOAA Oceanic & Atmospheric Research | Climate Portal | Climate Program Office | Climate Observation Division

How We Observe the Ocean

Coordinating the Observing System Networks

NOAA is the world leader in implementing the in situ elements of the global ocean observing system for climate. The NOAA Climate Observation Division sponsors the majority of the global component of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS).

A global observing system by definition crosses international and institutional boundaries, with benefits and responsibilities shared by many. A central precept of NOAA’s ocean climate observation strategy, therefore, is to work in partnership with other nations and other agencies. Accordingly, all of NOAA’s contributions to global ocean observation are coordinated internationally in cooperation with the Joint World Meteorological Organization - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (WMO/ IOC) Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM); deployment of drifting buoys, moored buoys, ships of opportunity and sub-surface profiling floats is coordinated through the JCOMM in situ Observations Program Support Centre (JCOMMOPS). The observing system is implemented in accordance with the international Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) of the World Meteorological Organization Implementation Plan for the Global Observing System for Climate in support of the UNFCCC (GCOS-92) and its update (GCOS-138) released in 2010.

The Climate Observation Division manages implementation of the NOAA contribution to the global ocean observing system as a set of observational networks or subsystems. Each subsystem brings unique strengths and limitations; together they build the whole; they are interdependent and function synergistically, providing stand-alone datasets and analyses, and supplying the observational infrastructure that underlies national and international climate research and operational activities.

Currently, over 8,000 observational platforms are deployed throughout the global ocean, with plans to increase that number to bring the system into compliance with the initial Global Climate Observing System design. NOAA sponsors nearly half of the platforms presently deployed in the global ocean, with over 70 other countries providing the remainder.

Implementation of the U.S. observational networks is accomplished by NOAA entities, laboratories, and university based Cooperative Institutes, working in close partnership with each other under funding from the Climate Observation Division. Satellites also provide critical contributions to global ocean observation, but operation of the satellites does not fall under the mandate of the Climate Observation Division.