Ocean indicators

OOPC Lead: Karina von Schuckmann

A full list of members can be accessed here.


Policy, management and governance instruments and the business community require sustainable ocean stewardship informed by best available ocean science, data and services, and well targeted and framed ocean indicators across all ocean disciplines play a critical role.

However, there is currently no internationally-agreed comprehensive set of ocean indicators to characterize physical, biogeochemical, or ecosystem processes, nor a common framework with agreed methodologies that would unite these individual efforts to create the common understanding and baselines required to monitor changes in the ocean in a transparent and authoritative way.

For this purpose, in the end of 2021 GOOS has endorsed a concerted international and multi-disciplinary initiative for the development of an Ocean Indicator Framework as a joint GOOS panel activity, and in collaboration with GEO BluePlanet, the OceanObs’19 Living Action Plan, the G7 Future of the Sea, and the UN Ocean Decade of Science.

From von Schuckmann et al. (2020)

What is an ocean indicator?

An ocean indicator can be defined as ‘A simple easy to understand tool to describe, measure and monitor a complex Ocean phenomenon. The Ocean indicator may change globally to locally, at different time scales, and can be utilized for Ocean literacy, and to build a sustainable Ocean observing system for holistic scientific assessment and stewardship’ (von Schuckmann et al., 2020).

The establishment of an indicator framework, specifically dedicated to the ocean, will have several functions, such as fostering international collaborations across multiple disciplines and supporting the quantification and identification of limitations for observing system capabilities, providing a validation tool for models and predictions, and a framework topic-focused scientific assessment, as well as providing an effective communication tool.

The idea of developing a set of ocean indicators was highlighted and discussed during the OceanObs’19 conference, and its ‘Living Action Plan’ and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) offer added incentives to develop a project to take this issue forward.

The GOOS Task Team on Ocean Indicator Framework (TTOIF)

The recent establishment of the GOOS Task Team for an ocean indicator framework draws on experts in Earth system science and the human dimensions, and initiate discussions on the definition, criteria and topical organization for a global framework. The Task Team draws from representatives from existing global and regional ocean indicator programmes.

Initial consultations have indicated strong interest by some developing countries to be involved in the definition of the framework to ensure that their needs are addressed and recognized at the international level, emphasizing the need for developing country representatives (for example, through the GOOS Regional Alliances) to participate in this Task Team. The team is currently working on a common perspective paper in a high-profile journal to establish a science-based rationale for the global framework and to invite broad participation and engagement in the programme.

Next steps include then the development of a proposal for a long-term Global Ocean Indicator Framework Programme which allows for blue knowledge mobilization based on best available science cutting across the three pillars of sustainable development, scales and knowledge systems, which is one of the most urgent and innovative opportunity for enabling a sustainable future pathway for, and from a resilient life supporting ocean.

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