UN Ocean Decade Challenge 7 White Paper: A Roadmap for the observing system we need

The recently published UN Ocean Decade White Paper on Challenge 7: “Expand the Global Ocean Observing System” strongly advocates for a transformative era for ocean observing, setting the path for a robust, responsive, and sustainable observing system.

Challenge 7 is one of ten UN Ocean Decade challenges that collectively aim to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development. It calls upon a diverse range of actors to work together to expand the Global Ocean Observing System, with an aim to provide the information needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change and the effects of increasing CO2 levels, to support ocean health and biodiversity, to enable an expanding Blue Economy, and to mitigate the risk from natural disasters.

“We are excited to share the results of many months of work. The Challenge 7 White Paper has now been released, setting an ambitious vision to reinforce global ocean observing capacity to guide our responses to climate change and other human impacts on the ocean, facilitating informed decision-making for science, business and society,” says Working Group 7 co-chair Dr. Patricia Miloslavich, Program Lead of the East Antarctic Monitoring Program of the Australian Antarctic Division.

P. Miloslavich, together with Dr. Joe O’Callaghan, Director of Oceanly Science, led a group of experts who analyzed findings and recommendations from previous papers, as well as advances the UNESCO-IOC led Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) has made towards its 2030 Strategy. The team also interviewed ocean observing experts, stakeholders, and data users, surveyed the ocean observing needs of the UN Ocean Decade Programmes and Projects and synthesized the ocean observing needs of the other nine Vision 2030 Working Groups. The resulting Challenge 7 White Paper builds upon the GOOS 2030 Strategy and the Framework for Ocean Observing (FOO).

What do you need to know about the Challenge 7 White Paper?

The Challenge 7 White Paper underscores the pivotal role of GOOS, as a coordinating organization for global ocean observations in reaching the Challenge 7 goal. It articulates a strategic ambition to strengthen and expand GOOS in the long term, along with a roadmap indicating the steps to achieve such a long-term ambition. 

Addressing gaps requires collaboration

The White Paper highlights significant gaps in the current ocean observing system. Key issues include insufficient observational coverage, especially in deep ocean and polar regions, and the need for improved data integration and sharing. The gaps also extend to technological limitations and the need for a larger, more skilled workforce to manage and utilize ocean data effectively.

According to the recommendations of the White Paper, collective action in addressing these gaps should first focus on known geographical and technological gaps in the existing observing system, such as upgrading and expanding ocean observing capacity in the polar regions, the Global South, island-nations, and priority coastal areas. Training and capacity development are also highlighted as critical gaps at all levels of the ocean information value chain. 

Coordination and co-design

Numerous ocean observing systems already exist in many regions of the world. Better coordination among these should be facilitated by GOOS to ensure that standardization and the use of best practices supports cost efficiency, and data interoperability, while also enabling new collaborations across regions, communities, and technologies.

The concept of co-design is highlighted throughout the Challenge 7 White Paper, emphasizing the importance of working together with stakeholders from the end-user community as well as observation and modeling experts to evolve a responsive, solutions-oriented observing system. 

Technology, sensors and platforms

Filling in the gaps in the current observing system will require strengthening and expanding the existing array of in situ and remote observing platforms, as well as developing new or enhanced automated technologies, sensors and platforms. 

The White Paper for Challenge 7, together with the White Paper for Challenge 8: “Create a Digital Representation of the Ocean”, sets forth a strategy for the development and implementation of a fully interoperable ocean data digital ecosystem that aims to democratize data access and use for all parties, and to facilitate the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to provide user-ready information from integrated observations,

A new economic thinking

Significant resources are required to support the expansion of the global ocean observing system, and current investment in ocean observations and infrastructure are inadequate to support a sustainable ocean economy. The Challenge 7 White Paper notes that new economic thinking is required to tackle this resourcing issue. 

Multi-sector collaboration, private-public partnerships, mobilization of ocean finance tools and market incentives, as well as establishing new and sustained financing mechanisms for less developed regions are highlighted as key priorities. 

Let’s work together!

The Working Group 7 co-chairs emphasized the urgency of collaboration to grow an integrated and responsive observing system at international, regional, and national levels: “The cost of inaction in ocean observing to human society and the blue economy is high. It’s estimated at ~$200 billion USD each year and that number will grow annually due to climate change,” stated Dr. Joe O’Callaghan at the UN Ocean Decade Conference 2024 in Barcelona. 

As the primary body responsible for coordinating global ocean observations, GOOS invites everyone along the ocean observing value chain to read the Challenge 7 White Paper, consider the recommendations and work together with GOOS towards achieving a truly global ocean observing system for the benefit of our societies.

Access all ten of the Vision 2030 White Papers here.

About GOOS:

The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) is the global home of ocean observing expertise and systematic coordination. 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, observing networks, alliances and projects, supported by the 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).

About the Ocean Decade:

Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.

About the UNESCO-IOC:

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (UNESCO-IOC) 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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