Streamlining ocean observing around the world: Ocean Best Practices

International experts are working together to improve the way we monitor the ocean through the development of Ocean Best Practices – common methods across ocean research, operations and applications that allow interoperability and reproducibility of ocean data and information.

Our society relies on timely ocean information every day. Data coming from ocean observations underpins weather services, hazard warnings, food production, tourism, recreation and even cultural values. Ultimately, good and timely ocean information is fundamental for the sustainable development of societies and nations. 

But the variety of ways to observe the blue part of our planet can be as vast as the ocean itself.  This brings difficulties when comparing data from different regions – or even from different observers from the same country. Not being able to combine data to make it interoperable, leaves data in silos, limiting our ability to answer pressing societal and global questions.

“As we move toward basin-scale ocean observing, efficient and consistent monitoring and predicting of the ocean is essential. These need common methods for interoperability and reproducibility,” says Frank Muller-Karger of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.

Methods that repeatedly produce superior results in comparison with other methods that have the same objective are called best practices. Such methods must be reviewed, adopted and employed by multiple organizations. In the case of ocean observing, the Ocean Best Practices System (OBPS) was established under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO as a joint project of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE). Its vision is to have agreed and broadly adopted methods across ocean research, operations and applications.

By the community, for the community

The OBPS repository is now home to more than 1700 submitted practices for different ocean operations. Some of these have been formally endorsed as GOOS best practices, identifying them as a best practice adopted globally by an observing community or network. The OBPS community is continuously working to support expert groups to review and endorse the most suitable practices for different applications that emerge from experiences around the globe in order to improve the way we observe the ocean.  

The benefits of applying standardized best practices in ocean operations are numerous. Best practices increase opportunities for collaboration, improve interoperability between different systems, allow a more efficient use of time, more trust in obtained data, and even higher funding success. 

“The most important benefit of having common ocean best practices, in my opinion, is the possibility to compare data over different locations and over time, allowing us to detect change. This is particularly important as the impacts of climate change and other stressors on our planet are increasing,” says Rachel Przeslawski from Australia’s New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

“If local and national monitoring is done in a compatible way, it becomes more easy and routine to understand whether any local change is due to a local process, or if it is something happening across much larger time scales or large areas,” adds Muller-Karger. Such compatibility and interoperability are also fundamental to enable modeling and forecasting, just like it is for forecasting weather. 

A  total of 1768 best practices and monthly 29,000 user accesses of the Ocean Best Practices System is a fantastic achievement, but the OBPS team knows there is still much more to do in order to have best practices documented for all coordinated observing and forecasting systems.

Leading change through the 6th Ocean Best Practices Workshop

Over two weeks in October 2022, around 600 participants from the academic, government and operational sectors, as well as non-governmental and citizen or civil organizations, joined online for the 6th Ocean Best Practices Workshop. Its goal was to guide the development of best practices, promote their documentation, and to share them widely through the Ocean Best Practices System. 

The workshop was organized into 19 thematic sessions by either geographic scope (e.g. surface ocean, deep ocean, Arctic) or topic (e.g. environmental DNA, policy, lowering the cost of methods and technologies). It provided an opportunity for interested stakeholders to meet, trace a roadmap to achieve the goals, advance publications regarding these practices, and to consider how to best use the OBPS to distribute standardized practices.

“An important conversation was how to and who would provide more formal endorsement of a particular practice. Some groups have strategies implemented for endorsement to ensure interoperability and trust. These examples were an important element of the workshop and serve as role models for other groups interested in promoting such standardization,” says Muller-Karger. 

Next steps for the Ocean Best Practices System

There are several next steps for the OBPS over the short term. These include continuing to engage a broad swath of ocean observing stakeholders, from technologists and scientists to users of ocean information who can provide requirements for how they want to store and access documents about the best practices that they need to do their jobs. 

Such requirements will help the developers of the OBPS to advance the system to have wider utility as a well-recognized trusted resource. For example, OBPS is looking to broaden the use of best practices in developing regions through adaptation of best practices to national and regional infrastructure capabilities. These efforts also guide the community to lower costs and to be more efficient in the delivery of timely and trusted information about how the global ocean and life within it are changing.

The OBPS steps into the future under the leadership of two new co-chairs, Rene Garello (Institut Mines-Telecom Atlantique Bretagne-Pays de la Loire, Technopôle Brest-Iroise) and George Petihakis (Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Crete), who look forward to working with the community to address the challenges of advancing best practices. We have much to thank Jay Pearlman (Fourbridges, IEEE France) and Johannes Karstensen (GEOMAR) for serving as co-chairs until December 2022.

About OBPS:

The Ocean Best Practices System (OBPS) was adopted in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO as a joint Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (GOOS-IODE) Project. OBPS provides publication, discovery and access to relevant and tested methods, from observation to application, as well as a foundation for increasing capacity. 

About GOOS:

The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) is the global home of ocean observing expertise. We lead and support a community of international, regional and national ocean observing programmes, governments, UN agencies, research organizations and individual scientists. Our Core Team of expert panels, networks, alliances and projects supported by a GOOS Office is in touch with ocean observing and forecasting around the world. We are a programme led by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, with UN and science co-sponsors: World Meteorological Organization (WMO), UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the International Science Council (ISC).


The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO(IOC/UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.

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