December 2020 OES Beacon

Sustaining Long-Term Ocean Observations

Christoph Waldmann, New Standards Standing Committee Chair, Senior Member IEEE OES

Long-term observations are critical for using ocean resources responsibly and sustainably. Many nations are cooperating to develop global and regional ocean observing networks in support of the Global Ocean Observing System ( However, ensuring the continuation of the existing observation system will be constrained by limited funding and cooperation among current and potential operators/users. The UN Decade of Ocean Science for a Sustainable Development will spotlight the heretofore mostly invisible role of sustained ocean data, observations and knowledge for future sustainable development solutions and climate action with the aim to shore up the sustainability of existing research infrastructure, maximize the discovery and use of observations of the ocean.

From the perspective of an ocean engineer, long-term ocean observations are posing specific challenges on the instruments used, which are mostly related to the performance of the involved devices under field conditions. If it comes to selecting an instrument for a particular purpose another issue comes into the picture that goes back to the ambiguity of the terms that are used in specification sheets of manufacturers, or put another way, what users understand reading those specifications. In ocean sciences there is a remarkable lack of standards that could bring a solution to that problem. Actually, in underwater acoustics a number of ISO standards exist while for other sensors only the newly developed ISO 22013 shows promise to resolve some of those issues.

The way ocean sciences is operating these days is by introducing Best Practice procedures that are designed as fit-for-purpose for different projects and applications ( For the moment this approach appears to be most efficient as obviously different users have different requirements on their instruments and the specification of the required performance. However, in the long run a process has to be started that at least provides a harmonization of terms and procedures across different domains, as for instance marine meteorology and oceanography. This has to be initiated to ensure comparability and better use of ocean data, also as those data are collected by huge investments in time and financial resources.

The IEEE Ocean Engineering Society (OES) has those issues on their agenda and as a matter of fact is playing a leading role in improving the situation, for instance in the establishment of the Ocean Best Practice repository ( Furthermore, OES is planning to foster their activities in regard to developing standards that can readily be adopted by manufacturers and infrastructure operators, with the aim to maximize the use of ocean observations.


Pearlman, J., et. al., Evolving and Sustaining Ocean Best Practices and Standards for the Next Decade, Front. Mar. Sci., 04 June 2019

A moored buoy for long-term ocean measurements close to the Canary Islands (© PLOCAN, Spain)