In May 2015, a paddle boarding tourist visiting Waikīkī, Hawaii, disappeared when a riptide swept him out to sea. After a 15-hour search, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued the man almost 11 miles from his starting point. One reason for the success of the rescue mission was an advanced technology called the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), which helped to pinpoint the stranded tourist’s exact location by analyzing factors including current speed, wave height, and wind intensity.
IOOS also helps the U.S. Coast Guard conduct search and rescue efforts with newfound precision and speed, saving hundreds of lives each year and increasing global understanding about the variables that cause accidents at sea.
(Video Credit: Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System).
The technology uses high frequency radar systems located near the edge of water bodies or directly in the water to retrieve relevant oceanographic data. High frequency radar has the unique ability to measure large areas at once with a level of spatial detail that even satellites are unable to capture. IOOS also allows users to manipulate raw data to specific preferences and situations, creating models that can be used to solve problems in real time.
Before the U.S. Coast Guard began using IOOS technology, the agency had a 22 percent success rate for search and rescue operations that took place during rough or unpredictable conditions. Greater use of IOOS technology has the potential to increase the success rate of search and rescue operations up to 67 percent, thereby saving lives and an estimated $135 million in rescue costs each year.
IOOS technology also has implications for ecosystem monitoring in previously inaccessible and poorly studied ocean ecosystems, such as the Arctic or the deep sea. For example, IOOS can track animal behavior and movement to identify important spawning habitat for key aquatic species. IOOS has also used gliders to monitor water currents, temperature, and tagged animals and inform research on storms, fisheries, and water quality. In addition, this technology can help scientists understand harmful algal blooms, ocean acidification, and global whale migration patterns. In addition, IOOS has been used to increase the resiliency of coastal towns by improving tropical cyclone and hurricane forecasts.
IOOS’s many uses underscore its original mission to increase data availability and share information between scientists, stakeholders, policymakers, and the public. In the face of funding constraints for future IOOS research, it will be crucial for agencies, governments, and scientists to educate stakeholders about IOOS’s role in predicting storms, understanding ocean acidification trends, monitoring species migration patterns and, ultimately, saving lives.
Published in March, 2017, by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.