Ocean Observing System
Report Card 2018

Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)


Real-time ocean observations… …are critical to predict, manage and mitigate the effects of extreme weather events that have high impact on the safety of life, property and the economy.

For example surface measurements from ships, drifters and buoys provide critical information for marine forecasts for shipping and fisheries; additionally warmer ocean temperatures, rising sea level and variability in the major boundary currents can influence natural phenomena such as tropical cyclones.

In situ and satellite observations, particularly of upper ocean temperature and salinity ahead of tropical cyclones, are fundamental to improve the representation of the upper ocean thermal structure that significantly influence the development and the intensification of tropical cyclones.

Underwater gliders, profiling floats and drifters are very useful platforms for gathering real-time upper ocean observations that are key for tropical cyclone forecasting. These instruments, deployed in the tropical oceans during cyclone season, enable improved storm intensity forecasts.

Real-time ocean observations in regions where tropical cyclones occur are necessary to improve early warning systems and for timely decision making to manage risk and improve emergency response efficiency.

Satellite image of Irma (center), Jose (right) and Katia (left) tropical storms churning in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time during 2017. NOAA.

Sea Surface Temperature map of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 5, 2017. The threshold temperature warm enough to fuel a hurricane is 27.8°C; the yellow-to-red line on the map represents Irma’s track from Sept. 3 – 6. NASA Earth Observatory

Epic amount of rainfall in Port Arthur, Texas, from Hurricane Harvey, August 2017. U.S. Air National Guard, Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez.

National Weather Service

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season… …was one of the most destructive on record. Damage costs exceeded 250 billion dollars in the United States alone, while recovery for the worst hit Caribbean islands will take years. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made accurate advance predictions that the season would be above average. The outlook was based, in part, on ocean observations. Without the forecasts and warnings, the loss of life would have been even higher. Gliders and air-deployed micro floats provided higher density measurements ahead of hurricanes Irma and Jose, which helped to improve the forecast of storm intensity in the days and hours before they made landfall.


In situ and satellite observations are fundamental for delivering marine weather and ocean services (e.g. forecasts) to support safety of life and property at sea, maritime commerce and the well-being of coastal communities. Not only they underpin scientific knowledge and the intricate relationship between the ocean, the atmosphere and the ice, but they also provide insights into the global weather and climate system and the impacts of long-term climate change. These ocean observations also provide information on the occurrence of marine natural hazards and increasing stress on the ocean from human activities; both posing challenges to sustainable development.

The Ocean Observing System Report Card 2018 seeks to inform ocean observing stakeholders, society and decision-makers about the status of the global ocean observing system coordinated by the Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM).

The global ocean observing system has developed significantly over the last few years, with emerging networks and sensors helping to meet new requirements and to deliver critical data at different time and space scales. For instance, global ocean heat content, increasing ocean acidification and sea level rise can now be observed with unprecedented accuracy. Continued availability and expansion of in situ observations are vital to maintaining, and improving upon, that success.

For many years, the satellite network has enabled us to accurately measure fundamental variables such as: ocean surface temperature and salinity, ice coverage, ocean color (an indication of ocean productivity), sea level and sea surface winds. The satellite network relies upon and complements the in situ observations. Together they provide foundational knowledge about the ocean environment and enable a wide range of forecasts and services.

Map legend: see in situ and emerging networks tables. Symbols size in the map are exaggerated in the order of hundreds kilometres for readability.

The in situ global ocean observing system is composed of multiple platforms, including shipbased weather stations, moored and drifting buoys, autonomous profiling floats, dedicated research vessels and tide gauges, which observe a range of essential environmental variables.

Although the in situ ocean observation system provides many fundamental observations, it remains vulnerable, as many of its components are reliant on short-term commitments through research programmes.

JCOMM in situ networks
JCOMM in situ networks Implementation Data & metadata Comments
Status Trend Real-time Archived high quality Metadata
Ship based meteorological measurements – SOT/VOS Increasing number of Automatic Weather Stations installed globally.
Ship based oceanographic measurements – SOT/SOOP More than 95% of data transmitted in real-time.
Ship based aerological measurements – SOT/ASAP European E-ASAP programme is providing the only steady and stable real-time radiosonde datastream over oceans (mostly North Atlantic).
Sea level gauges – GLOSS Over the past year the GLOSS web pages were re-written and interface to users is continuously improving.
Drifting buoys – DBCP Good coverage other than high latitudes where coverage has declined and is inadequate.
Moored buoys – DBCP Many coastlines are not covered. Real-time data delivery is good but access to archived data and metadata is presently inadequate.
Interdisciplinary moorings – OceanSITES OceanSITES Deep Ocean Challenge has a pool of 50 deep Temperature, Salinity, Pressure recorders, collecting time series data at new key locations in the deep (>3500m) ocean.
Profiling floats – Argo More than 1 scientific paper per day logged.
Repeated transects – GO-SHIP Increased international participation: Ireland leads its 1st cruise.
Emerging networks
Emerging networks and extending capabilities Highlights Readiness level
OceanGliders Operational multidisciplinary systems exist in several different regions. MATURE regionally; PILOT globally
HF radars Nine countries sharing surface currents globally; waves and meteotsunami warning testing regionally. MATURE regionally; PILOT globally
Surface based measurements CO2 - SOCONET Becoming part of multi-platform, continuing assessments. PILOT to MATURE
Biogeochemistry & Deep floats – Argo Regional pilots, ready for the global. PILOT
Animal borne sensors Regional pilots, polar ocean observations. PILOT

More information on Global Ocean Observing System readiness level at: www.goosocean.org


Today, one of the greatest challenges facing the global ocean observing system is in securing the sustained resources needed to meet the expanding societal demands. This includes filling observation gaps such as in the Arctic, the Southern Ocean, regional basins and the deep ocean below 2,000 meters; and to expand our capability to measure more biogeochemical and ecosystem variables. Other specific challenges include the increasing costs to maintain moorings and deploy instruments in remote areas, in a context of decreasing access to academic and commercial ship time, and the communication to coastal communities to avoid vandalism to the existing moored buoys.

Optimization of resources, technology development and coordination with partner countries to share best practices and transfer expertise can enhance and enable expansion of the system. Developing global initiatives in these areas is an ongoing challenge that carry many benefits. Only by having a fully integrated and rigorously monitored ocean observing system will we be able to respond to the many scientific and societal needs to ensure a healthy ocean and a healthy planet.

We need to strengthen international cooperation to maintain and improve the system, and to increase the levels of long-term funding needed to sustain an efficient, integrated, innovative and fit for purpose global ocean observing network.


New technologies based on autonomous platforms, smart sensors and improved telecommunications can offer more costefficient solutions towards improving the global observing system. Using these technologies helps to improve the multidisciplinary ocean observing system as well as responding to new requirements. It is important to introduce gradually technological and scientific innovations alongside the existing observing networks while preserving some stability. The diversity

and complementary nature of the systems should ultimately lead to better quality observations both spatially and temporally and better measurement accuracy.

The observing system also needs to develop stronger links with the downstream users of the observations, in order to increase system responsiveness and to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Developing these vital end-to-end links is both a current and future challenge.

Satellite Years
Climate 9092949698 00 02 04 06 081012141618202224262830
Sea ice more
Color more
Sea level more
Temperature more
Salinity more
Sea State more
Wind more

Satellite sea ice measurements are marginal towards inadequate for the future. The GCOS requirements for sea ice thickness for temporal resolution (monthly) and spatial resolution (25 km) are met. However, the accuracy requirement of 0.1 m is not met. Regarding sea ice drift, the temporal and spatial resolution requirements (weekly and 5 km) and the accuracy requirement (1 km/day) are met only in combination with SAR. For sea ice concentration and extent, the GCOS requirements for temporal resolution (weekly), spatial resolution (1-15 km and 1-5 km respectively) and accuracy (5% ice area fraction and 5 km respectively) are currently met but won’t anymore in a near future. GCOS requires to ensure sustained satellite-based (microwave radiometry, SAR, altimetry, visible and IR) sea-ice products. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) mission has been discontinued and in the near future, the remaining satellites from this mission should no longer be operational, leaving a gap in the long-term sea ice measurements from passive microwave, provided since 1978. The requirements for sea ice concentration and extent won’t be met anymore.

No description available

Global and regional sea level measurements from satellite are adequate through 2030. For global mean sea level, the current altimeters meet the accuracy requirement (2-4 mm global mean and 1 cm locally). The stability requirement (0.3 mm/yr) is met only through subsequent analysis by the science team and comparison with tide gauges, so the satellite system on its own is not meeting that requirement. However, it will meet that requirement once Jason-CS (Sentinel-6) is launched in 2020. Regional sea level is observed with a horizontal resolution of 100 km but not 10 km as required by GCOS. Although 1/4-degree (25 km) products exist, they do not contain information on scales smaller than about 100 km. This will only be met with SWOT when it flies in 2020. However, SWOT will only fulfill the weekly temporal resolution requirement in combination with Jason-CS and the other Sentinel altimeter missions, but this requirement will be met as long as SWOT continues to operate. The stability requirement for regional sea level will also be met by the Jason-CS mission. The Global mean sea level record is not under threat of lapsing until 2030, the planned end of the Jason-CS missions (one launched in 2020 and the second launched in 2025).

Sea Surface Temperature (SST) satellite measurements are currently adequate towards marginal for the future. The GCOS target requirements for satellite SST are an accuracy of 0.1K over 100 km, a stability of 0.03K over 100-km scales, a horizontal resolution of 1-100 km and an hourly to weekly temporal resolution. The temporal resolution requirement is met. The accuracy requirement is met for the open ocean, but still not for areas of high aerosols and/or water vapor. Additionally, coastal and upwelling areas, where persistent cloud cover can be a significant factor, would also be problematic in meeting the requirement. The stability requirement is not met in coastal areas either. Another region of large uncertainty is the Arctic where current SST data sets perform differently under different conditions. These topics are still on-going researches with regular updates to algorithms at all agencies. The horizontal resolution requirement is met by data sets that combine infrared (IR) and microwave (MW) derived SSTs. However, this is also both temporally and regionally dependent. In areas of persistent seasonal cloud cover (upwelling regions) the feature resolution is inherently reduced to 25km (microwave). For data sets that only include IR measurements the feature resolution can be reduced even further. If only IR data is available the spatial resolution would be drastically reduced during periods of persistent cloud cover. GCOS also requires to continue the provision of best possible SST fields based on a continuous coverage mix of polar orbiting (including dual view) and geostationary IR measurements, combined with passive MW coverage. Geostationnary satellites are essential for resolving the diurnal cycle, not resolved with polar orbiting satellites. They provide SST data since 2000 with a low accuracy (0.5K) that will be improved in the future. IR polar orbiter provide measurements at high latitudes and at high resolution. There are currently 8 polar orbiting satellites, decreasing to a still respectable 3-approved-satellites by 2025. However, passive MW SST data are currently available from 3 instruments, but 2 of those have issues and there is no 6.9 GHz microwave instrument in orbit. MW instruments are in planned development by the European Space agency (ESA) within the Sentinel programs. However, no SST-capable passive MW sensor has been approved at this time and the MW instrument planned for 2022 by the Japanese space agency (JAXA) has been canceled. Continuity of the passive MW SST record, which is critical for cloudy regions where no IR measurements are available, is in extreme jeopardy.

Sea Surface Salinity (SSS) satellite measurements are inadequate. The GCOS target requirements for satellite SSS are an accuracy of 0.01 psu, a horizontal resolution of 1-100 km and an hourly to monthly temporal resolution. While the spatial and temporal resolution requirements are currently approximately met, the accuracy requirement is far from being met globally and regionally especially at high latitudes. The GCOS also requires to ensure the continuity of space-based SSS measurements. There is currently no SSS mission continuity planned for the future.

Sea State satellite measurements are currently inadequate. The GCOS requirement for the frequency (3-hourly) is not met yet. The requirement for uncertainty is of 10 cm but recent studies show the precision is about 12-20 cm only. The stability requirement of 5 cm is almost reached with a stability close to 5 cm/decade. The largest weakness of altimeters are the frequency and the resolution. More missions in phased orbits are needed in order to get to 3-hourly and 0.25 degree resolution (AltiKa like missions).

Wind speed and vectors measurements are inadequate. The GCOS requirements are 10 km for spatial resolution and 3h for temporal resolution. These requirements are not met as current datasets have a spatial resolution of 20-30 km and a temporal resolution closer to 6h. The World Meteorological Organization requires 3 scatterometers in coordinated orbits to obtain 90% coverage of the ocean at 6-hourly interval. Sampling across different 6-hourly intervals is a minimum requirement to resolve the diurnal cycle. Currently, there are not enough scatterometers in orbit publicly delivering data to meet these requirements. The requirement for accuracy (0.5 m/s) is met for individual observations except at wind speeds >20m/s and the stability requirement of 0.1 m/s as well.


Significant progress has been made over the last few years, in weather and climate forecasts, in improved early warning systems at sea as well as on land, and better scientific understanding of climate change and variability. This progress is the result of contributions and collaborations from many nations to support ocean observing, many of whom also contribute as WMO Members and IOC of UNESCO Member States.

Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic Of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea (Republic Of), Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, United Republic Of, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen.

Based on operational platforms registered at JCOMMOPS as of June 2018: 86 countries

However, a much smaller number of nations and partners contribute to the global-scale dimension of the ocean observing enterprise and the infrastructure required to keep the entire system operating efficiently. With the increasing societal demand for ocean-based observations and information, our challenge is to grow the global ocean observing system to meet those demands. Consequently, a wider alliance of contributors is needed to maintain and improve the existing observing efforts.

JCOMM thanks all Members/ Member States and contributors for their continued support and encourages further contributions to improve the global ocean observing system to better meet society’s needs.

Ocean observations for education and outreach activities Ocean observation data and instruments are being integrated into more educational and outreach activities. In 2017, the 1st Ocean Observers workshop (www.oceanobservers.org) brought together ocean scientists, educators, marine communicators, sailing community and students who were willing to share resources and experiences on in situ ocean observing educational activities and to establish new international collaborative partnerships. These activities allow the students to engage by using in situ data in their classrooms and to form partnerships with schools in different countries. This type of educational partnership mirrors international scientific collaborations in ocean observing.

CONTACTS General information: www.jcomm.info Networks status: www.jcommops.org Assistance: reportcard@jcommops.org

If you wish to contribute to the global ocean observing system, please contact: JCOMM Observations Coordination Group (OCG) and Observations Programme Support centre (JCOMMOPS)