WHOI Researcher Makes Case For More Ocean Observation

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Deputy Director and Vice President of Research Richard Murray testifies before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology January 15.

WASHINGTON – An official from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution stressed the importance of supporting ocean science and expanding observational capability last week to a House of Representatives committee.

WHOI Deputy Director and Vice President of Research Richard Murray testified before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and addressed a 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on the ocean and cryosphere, and their impacts on changing climate.

Murray presented three main points to the committee.

The first is that the ocean is central to climate and weather systems, along with economic growth and national security.

“It must be included in any discussion regarding legislation and policy addressing the environmental changes we see today,” Murray said.

He said the national must also make bold and innovative investments in ocean observations.

“This quantitative data is essential in order to improve climate and weather predictions and our ability to make difficult decisions about the future,” Murray said.

He also expressed a need to integrate climate and weather modeling with risk assessment and risk management models to help align climate and economic policies, which have the potential for dramatic and positive effect on the United States for coming generations.

“All of this relies on increasing and improving the quality of data throughout the world’s oceans,” Murray said.

The IPCC special report is a comprehensive assessment of the role the ocean has in the earth’s climate system, and identifies the several ways a changing climate influences and is influenced by the ocean.

The report was the result of more 100 scientists from 36, who referenced about 7,000 scientific publications. The report also addressed more than 31,000 comments from reviewers.

Murray said oceans are warming, sea levels are rising, sea ice is disappearing, surface waters are becoming more acidic and oxygen minimum zones within the ocean depths are expanding.

He said the report indicates the rate of change is accelerating, and evidence clearly shows human activity has played a role in the changes.

Much of the changes occurring in the ocean deep beneath the surface and away from everyday observations making it hard for humans to sense or understand what it happening.

Murray said understanding the scope and nature of the changing planet has come from decades of observations and a comprehensive look at the ocean’s past through cores of ice and sediment from the sea floor – but that it’s not enough.

“We need to learn more about oceans – in places we’ve never been and for longer than we have ever been there,” Murray said.

He said ocean changes also impact everyone and not just families who live on the coasts.

“For example, studies show that floods throughout the Mississippi River Valley in 2019, as far north as Minnesota, were directly tied to weather patterns originating in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean,” Murray said.

He said conclusions can also sometimes include levels of uncertainty, which are perceived as a weakness of science.

“In fact, the opposite is true,” he said. “Some of the findings have lower certainty because we need better observations. This shows where we should turn our attention in order to improve our understanding and decrease that uncertainty.”

Ocean observations are expensive and difficult to conduct, especially in areas of the arctic and southern oceans.

“We must in the infrastructure, technology and instrumentation of ocean observations to help make the oceans transparent to us,” Murray said. “To study the ocean you have to go out on to it and down into it, which is something the ocean science community specializes in.”

Murray said support from legislators for more ocean science can help address challenges and generate the best information possible to help inform private and public economic decisions.

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