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Spotlight on long-term observation of the Indian Ocean

By Juliet Hermes, Manager, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Juliet Hermes, manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node, began her three-year term on the Indian Ocean Region Panel (IORP) in January 2018. The panel is a cohort of international experts on all aspects of the Indian Ocean.

From 21 to 23 March Juliet attended the 14th Session of the CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, followed by the Indian Ocean Observing system (IndOOS) review.

As a new member of the panel, Juliet gave a 15-minute presentation on her work, titled The South-West Indian Ocean from models to observations, the coast to the offshore and the physics to the fishers.

Why is the Indian Ocean such an important region to study?

Almost one-third of the world’s population lives in the Indian Ocean Rim. The Indian Ocean basin has a faster rate of warming than the other oceans and directly influences the Indian Monsoons and East African rainfall. The Bay of Bengal has 5% of the global cyclone count but 80% of global cyclone casualties.

Vulnerability is increasing due to the increase in the population, sea level and cyclone intensity. The Indian Ocean is not only getting warmer but also more acidic, less oxygenated (oxygen minimum zones are growing, which impact fisheries) and less productive (especially in upwelling areas). Many Indian Ocean Rim countries depend heavily on fisheries.

Climate ocean variability, predictability and change

CLIVAR (Climate ocean variability, predictability and change) is a core project of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) on the ocean-atmosphere system. CLIVAR’s mission is to understand the dynamics, interaction and predictability of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. To this end it facilitates observations, analysis and predictions of changes in the Earth's climate system, enabling better understanding of climate variability, predictability and change.

The CLIVAR project was launched in 1995, building on the successes of the Tropical Ocean - Global Atmosphere Project (TOGA) and the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) to further understanding of the oceans and climate.

CLIVAR objectives are to describe and understand the dynamics of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system and to identify processes responsible for climate variability, change and predictability on seasonal, interannual, decadal and centennial time-scales, through the collection and analysis of observations and the development and application of models of the coupled climate system, in cooperation with other relevant climate-research and observing activities.


Participants of the 14th Session of the CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel. Back row, L-R: Jerry Wiggert, Caroline Ummenhofer, Agus Atmadipoera, Dongxiao Wang, Lin Liu. Front row, L-R: Juliet Hermes, Roxy Mathew Koll, Lisa Beal, Jing Li (Photo courtesy of Jing Li)

Indian Ocean Region Panel

There are nine CLIVAR panels with varying research foci (including decadal climate variability and predictability and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation in a changing climate). These are made up of four global and five regional panels, including the Indian Ocean Region Panel (IORP).

The IORP terms of reference are, in summary, (found in detail here):

  • Scientific and technical oversight for a sustained ocean observing system (OOS) for the Indian Ocean;
  • Coordinate and complete the implementation of the sustained OOS for the Indian Ocean;
  • Review and promote frontier multi-disciplinary research themes related to CLIVAR research foci and WCRP grand challenges; and
  • Report to the CLIVAR scientific steering group and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) through the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) Perth office.

The detailed terms of reference (ToRs) discuss climate variability and an outcome of this 2018 meeting was that the ToRs needed to refer to climate change as well as variability. This will be taken into account as part of the White Paper for Ocean Observation (should it be accepted) as well as in the review document.

Current IORP activities include the focus of the meetings in Indonesia, the IndOOS decadal review, in which the aim is to:

  • Develop strong statements for the continuation of the Indian Ocean observing system in terms of important climate questions and climate variables to be measured.
  • Evaluate the design of the OOS in terms of the identified questions and essential ocean variables and provide actionable recommendations for its future evolution.
  • Learn practicalities of what has been done in the past 10 years, such as what have been the issues, e.g. vandalism.
  • Look forward to new technologies.

There was a discussion on improving awareness of the societal impacts arising from the impacts of the ocean versus the impact the observations have on society. The end users are not aware of the large-scale systems and this should be improved.

During the meeting there was a long discussion on the current status of the IndOOS review as well as the interaction between IORP, Indian Ocean GOOS and the Indian Ocean Resources Forum. It was agreed that the Resources Forum needs to be reinvigorated and have a new leader who can help drive the message.

The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) Resources Forum (IRF) is made up of key directors from ocean institutes around the world who fund observing programmes and IORP needs to ensure that the IndOOS review is implemented and that IOGOOS and IRF are the implementation panels. There needs to be good interaction between IORP and IOGOOS/IRF in order to inform them of what IORP has learned about IndOOS and how this can be passed on to the relevant countries to help sustain these observations.


Participants in the review panel (Photo courtesy of Jing Li)

Indian Ocean Observing System

IndOOS is the sustainable ocean observation system for the Indian Ocean. The goal of IndOOS is to provide sustained high-quality oceanographic and marine meteorological measurements to support knowledge-based decision-making through improved scientific understanding, weather and climate forecasts, and environmental assessments.

The current IndOOS design was established on the basis of the implementation plan drafted by the IORP in 2006. Both Indian Ocean science priorities and measurement technologies have evolved since the original design was established.

Also, the scientists involved have learned some practical lessons in the implementation phase of IndOOS that can be usefully incorporated into recommendations for how to improve cost-effectiveness, operational efficiency and interdisciplinary synergies. Finally, the Second International Indian Ocean Expeditions (IIOE-2, 2015-2020), which have just kicked off, provide a unique opportunity for providing enhanced resources to IndOOS.


The international community highlighted the Agulhas System Climate Array as an essential observing system for the Indian Ocean

This review meeting was the second IndOOS review panel and brought together the lead authors as well as a panel of five international reviewers. Two intense days were spent presenting and critiquing the IndOOS review chapters.

This was a very useful exercise and the review paper has been reshaped based on the feedback received, but a lot of work is still to be done. There were some gaps covering the link between the Indian Ocean and East African rainfall and it was unfortunate that there were no African co-authors on any of the review Chapters, however this feedback was taken into consideration.

During the meeting the actionable recommendations from all 25 Chapters were assessed by the international community and it was positive to see that the Agulhas System Climate Array was highlighted as an essential observing system for the Indian Ocean and should be maintained as it fulfilled all desired categories.

Anyone interested in reading the full review document or executive summary can do so here: .

IOGOOS (2001): An association of marine operational and research agencies in the Indian Ocean region that provide an organisational framework for planning, coordination and effective implementation of appropriate regional and sub regional ocean and coastal observing systems and services. 

IRF (2010): An international group of leaders from the IndOOS stakeholder community derived from institutions and governments that have the capacity to assign operational resources to IndOOS and/or facilitate resourcing of IndOOS.

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