Scientists tag elephant seals, like the ones seen here on Ano Nuevo Island in Calif., to collect critical ocean data. IOOS will help standardize data from various efforts so scientists can apply them more broadly.
For the first time, data from electronic tags attached to marine animals will be incorporated into the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®), a NOAA-led national partnership committed to enhancing our ability to collect, deliver, and use ocean information. In March, scientists from IOOS and other federal, state, and academic institutions met in Santa Cruz, Calif., to establish a framework for integrating biological observations to IOOS. Collection of biological data is expected to begin this fall.
The addition of biological data into a national system will mean easier access to this information for all scientists. Improved access can result in further advancements to the models and forecasts that rely on those data. Specifically, the addition of this data to IOOS will improve short-term marine and weather forecasts, as well as long-term climate predictions. This data will help scientists better understand how marine animals move with the flow of tides and currents and how climate change is altering their migration patterns.
“Data from these animals are transforming the way scientists study our waters and opening up new data sources,” said Zdenka Willis, U.S. IOOS director. “With the broader science community becoming more engaged and linking to IOOS, we will be able to provide information more readily to the state and federal officials who need it most.”
Scientists began widely using marine animal tagging technology in the 1990s on tuna, sharks, sea turtles, seals, whales, salmon, squid, and crustaceans, among others. Sensors track the animals over long distances for time periods ranging from a few days to more than a decade, collecting valuable data below the surface from remote, and difficult to reach, environments where conventional oceanographic sensing techniques are technically or economically unfeasible.
However, data are collected in different ways for varying applications. A major challenge is to better synchronize the many different tagging programs and improve data sharing. IOOS is looking to standardize the recording of these data so that scientists can apply the information more broadly. Incorporating this data into IOOS is one vital step towards expanding availability, and ultimately use, of this data to the broader ocean science community.
IOOS is a federal, regional, and private-sector partnership working to enhance our ability to collect, deliver, and use ocean information. IOOS delivers the data and information needed to increase understanding of our oceans and coasts, so that decision makers can act to improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect the environment.