Why observe the ocean?

The well-being of humanity depends on the health of our oceans. The sea is more than a resource for food, raw materials and transport - it also plays a pivotal role in human cultures, in the global climate system, in Earth’s element cycles, and its biodiversity. Human activities in oceans will increase strongly in response to population growth and economic pressures. Ocean observation is a fundamental contribution to knowledge of the Earth’s system, to sustainable maritime management, and to the implementation of environmental policies. Strategy groups on coastal and open ocean observation are formed in within KDM for strategic development and integration of German efforts to observe the oceans.

An understanding of oceanic processes is needed to assess the present state as well as to predict the future of the global environment. The regional as well as the global climate depends to a large degree on conditions and processes in the oceans including uptake, storage, and release of greenhouse gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide), ocean acidification, de-oxygenation and the warming of the ocean with the feedback to the hydrological cycle, as well as changes in ice-cover and glacier melting. The ocean is associated with risks - from natural risks, such as submarine earthquakes, tsunami and landslides to risks that are closely connected to global change, e.g., sea level rise, generation of storms, and extreme weather events. It bears also many chances for global energy, communication, and transport infrastructures, and it will always be an important source of food and natural products.

Multidisciplinary and multidimensional synchronous observing of the ocean is key to understand oceanic processes. The physical conditions of the ocean, productivity patterns, food web structure, cycling of carbon and other elements, biodiversity and distribution of marine organisms – from microbes and plankton to fish and marine mammals – are interrelated and need sustained observations comprising physical, chemical as well as biological ecosystem components.