Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 10
Spring 1992
Going with the flow

     Up-to-date information on dozens of ships and thousands of
instruments involved in a global ocean study flows through Oceanic, an
on-line information system at the College of Marine Studies complex in
Lewes, Del.
     Under the direction of Ferris Webster, oceanography professor,
the University maintains an international data information unit for
the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). Involving scientists
from over 40 nations through the end of the '90s, WOCE is itself part
of a decade-old international scientific program concerned with
climate prediction.
     The University's Oceanic system keeps track of ongoing
observations world-wide and maintains a directory of data sets, as
well as an oceanographic research ship schedule, with information on
cruise dates, name of the chief scientist, region to be covered and
proposed scientific program.
     More than 1,000 researchers log onto the Oceanic system each
month, Webster says. A request for information by a researcher in
Germany, for example, may result in a computer-generated map of the
Atlantic Ocean, with lines illustrating where ships are planning to go
or locations of drifting instruments.
     Now in its fourth year of funding by the National Science
Foundation, the on-line information system is available 24 hours a
day. "Since we have an uninterruptable power source, the computer is
seldom down, except for maintenance," Webster says.
     Although Oceanic includes summaries of research projects, the
system is intended to refer researchers to the appropriate data
directory. "We like to know which people have the measurements, not
what the data are," Ferris says. "We couldn't handle billions of
measurements, so we let the researchers keep them in their computers
and we direct people to them.     Under the WOCE program, ocean
measurements are being made with the ultimate goal of determining how
the ocean influences global and regional climates. Satellites measure
the shape of the ocean's surface, which is deformed by currents, sea
surface temperature and surface winds. Scientists on research vessels
take temperature and salinity measurements to compute the density of
the ocean, because density determines the pressure that drives
currents. And direct measurements of currents are made with such
instruments as moored meters, deep floats and surface drifters.
     "If the greenhouse effect indeed warms up the world, the ocean
could be a big reservoir for excess heat and carbon dioxide," Webster
says. "We know that the upper 10 feet of the ocean has the same heat
capacity as the entire atmosphere. We would like to know how much heat
the ocean can hold, what control the ocean exerts over the heat, and
how it carries heat and carbon dioxide from the surface layers to
deeper, colder layers.
     "Once we understand ocean circulation, we can model the role of
the ocean in relation to the atmosphere to make long-term predictions
about climate change."