Observing the ocean together

Observing the ocean together

Hydro International interviews Inga Lips

Collaborating and coordinating are two very important tasks of EuroGOOS, the European Global Ocean Observing System, located in Brussels. The member organizations work together to share ocean observation data and develop ocean information products and services for the broad community to gain a better understanding of the ocean and its role in the Earth ecosystem. As Inga Lips, secretary general of EuroGOOS, says: “We want to unite, align and build a community.”

EuroGOOS is the European component of the Global Ocean Observing System of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC GOOS). EuroGOOS unites 46 members and collaborates with over 130 organizations that are committed to operational oceanography in all corners of the European seas, resulting in a large combined community of operators of high-frequency radars, tide gauges, FerryBoxes, fixed platforms, gliders and Argo floats (Euro-Argo), who acquire ocean data on a 24/7 basis. The EuroGOOS Secretariat, which coordinates the cooperation of the members, is based in Brussels. Inga Lips oversees the European system from the EuroGOOS office housed in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in the Belgian capital. A biological oceanographer who studied phytoplankton dynamics in the Baltic Sea, Inga became EuroGOOS secretary general in 2020.

In this interview, Inga shares the vision and aims of the organization with Hydro International. She starts by talking a little more about the background of EuroGOOS: “We are the recognized voice of European operational oceanography, not only by the community itself but also by various partners and international institutions and by the European Commission. EuroGOOS was founded in 1994, but we got our legal status in 2013. We currently have 46 member organizations from 19 countries: a great achievement that also shows how much we are trusted in the ocean observing community in Europe.”

Where do you want to take EuroGOOS?

“The idea is to try to unite all important actors who are dealing with operational oceanography so that we can align our existing strategies, build new strategies together and work towards better delivery of near real-time data for the relevant ocean services and products. It is also important to continue uniting the operational observation community more tightly with the marine environment monitoring communities. Before I started here in 2020, I hadn’t been involved in EuroGOOS activities much, and I am happy with the trust given to me.”

It must be a complete other world, heading up the EuroGOOS Secretariat after being a researcher?

“Yes, but I had previous experience in administrative coordination tasks, and I established and ran the marine ecology lab at the Tallinn University of Technology back in Estonia. I was engaged in the Baltic Sea Convention HELCOM activities and for some years I also coordinated the Estonian national open sea monitoring programme. I was familiar with the many platforms used in operational oceanography and collected my research data for example using FerryBox, profiling buoys and gliders. Now, of course, the scale is larger and the community is much broader, but I enjoy what I am doing, and I like the bigger challenge.”

Inga Lips, secretary general of EuroGOOS: “We want to unite, align and build a community.”

Last autumn, the tenth EuroGOOS conference was organized in Galway, Ireland. What were the main outcomes of the conference?

“We are starting to communicate better that we need a sustainable ocean observing system. Without observations, ocean services and products that are relevant to a broad range of users are not possible. Too often, people take for granted that ocean observations and related services will be made available by someone for general use. We still lack a centrally and strategically supported ocean observing system in Europe; what we have is many national systems that often only consider national priorities. So, what we really tried to emphasize at our conference was the need for long-term commitments and strategic investments at the Member State level, but also at the European level. Ocean observing is too often funded by short-term research projects, and only a very small part of operations receive long-term financial support. To change this, we need to demonstrate the value of ocean observation and operational oceanography to all stakeholders across the marine knowledge value chain.”

Were there other messages?

“Also very much highlighted was the importance of people. We really need to invest more in people, not only in scientists but also in computer technicians who are able to handle big data, technicians and engineers to manage and advance the technologies we are using for ocean observing. We are collecting large amounts of data which needs entirely different approaches to be fully analysed, properly stored and managed. So, this is something that really needs to be taken care of, but obviously needs more resources as well – both human and financial.”

Is money always the problem? Or are there more matters to take care of?

“To be honest, we sometimes have funds. But those funds often come with short-term contracts. And, even if we know that the contract will be renewed every two years, this is not how the observing community wants to and should work – spending a lot of time applying for funding for everyday activities to serve society. Oceanographers should not have to stress so much about these repeated applications but should spend time doing their work. Just compare the observations for two interconnected systems – atmosphere and ocean. No one thinks that everyday weather measurements are to be financed through one- to four-year research studies, but this is the reality in ocean observing. Another thing is using resources more efficiently through better communication and better collaboration. If we know what others around us are doing, we can think about combining our activities. For instance, if a research vessel is going out to sea to carry out a particular job that could be combined with other tasks, people need to at least be aware of that. We are trying to facilitate a pan-European online platform through which we can inform each other about our observing plans and activities.”

What is the relation between EMODnet and EuroGOOS?

“The European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet) is a network of organizations supported by the European Union’s integrated maritime policy that originated from the EuroGOOS community. Our member organizations contribute to the EMODnet database in all its disciplines, and many contribute to its further development. We are very much intertwined.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge right now? 

“As I said before, the financial sustainability of the observing system and the better communication of the value of ocean observations to the broad range of stakeholders are very important. I also think that we need to pay more attention to collaboration with industry and the private sector. The private sector is conducting an enormous amount of ocean observations, which are not always shared, so we need to find a good balance and ways to cooperate to be able to benefit from those observations. We need to offer them something, develop services and products they would need and demonstrate to them the value of sharing their data. For instance, marine or weather forecasts, which they use in their everyday activities, would be improved if they shared their data. In the end this circle will be profitable for all parties.”

Is data sharing always easy?

“Not always. Industry and the private sector are making a lot of observations and are often willing to share the data, but we have to be sure about the quality of the data and educate them in quality control and compliance with other requirements. There might be issues there.”

Seabed 2030 is very successful in getting industry onboard, showing the world that they are tying up with industry and the private sector. Is that something that you look to as an example?

“Yes, we are watching examples like this closely. Seabed 2030 encourages cruise ships to deploy equipment such as echosounders or sidescanning sonar in what is called crowdsourced bathymetry. For us in ocean observing, offshore wind parks could be used as platforms for various sensors for real-time observations. And think of all the platforms that oil companies are still exploiting at sea. As oceanographers conducting our observations, we often lack an ongoing source of energy, as batteries run out very fast. The industry has a lot of platforms with enormous amounts of energy, so furthering this collaboration is certainly a good opportunity.”

EuroGOOS, founded in 1994, is an international non-profit association promoting European-scale operational oceanography within the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). With 46 members from 19 European countries, EuroGOOS provides oceanographic services and conducts marine research.

What can EuroGOOS do for the hydrographic industry?

“The hydrographic industry also conducts ocean observations. However, if you think that the partners gathered in EuroGOOS cover the full value chain, from observations to products and services for the public, a benefit might really be to provide the models for the hydrographic sector to understand the water movements and therefore be able to model and understand deposit or accumulation areas. Providing marine forecasts could also be beneficial, because hydrographers rely quite a lot on those forecasts and models, which is also connected to safety at sea.”

And vice versa, what would your call to the hydrographic industry be to do for EuroGOOS?

“Oh, that’s easy. We are so dependent on high-resolution bathymetric maps. If we don’t have those, all our models to calculate currents, tides, water temperature, salinity and vertical fluxes are wrong. So, access to good bathymetric data makes us very happy. We really need very good bottom topography, because this influences how waters move and hence the movement of organisms and substances, including pollutants.”

Is there anything that you’ve seen based on data or products that you have delivered that is so interesting, optimistic or pessimistic that you would like to share it?

“As I’m now working more from the coordination point of view and trying to find different collaboration options, I would maybe emphasize the importance of collaborations between different sectors. What is important to share as well is that we have received funding for the next four years, for which we are really happy. This funding will help us to consolidate the European marine research infrastructures through the development of federated services (including system performance monitoring and reporting, common planning of operations and traceability of data). Also, with the support of the European Commission, we are developing the common observation planning tool that I mentioned earlier, which can be used to share information between ocean observers and those planning and coordinating the observations. Through this tool, we will be able to get information for example about the deployment of different instruments in the same area at the same time, so that we can achieve good temporal and spatial coverage of observations in a specific region. And finally, something that I would really like to point out: at EuroGOOS we are facilitating different kinds of collaboration and coordination efforts, at the national but also the regional and European level. EuroGOOS is a promotor for the implementation of the European Ocean Observing System, EOOS.”

About Inga Lips

Inga Lips is secretary general of EuroGOOS. A biological oceanographer by training, she carried out research at the Estonian Marine Institute (University of Tartu) and Marine Systems Institute (Tallinn University of Technology) in Estonia. She coordinated the national open sea monitoring programme in Estonia and developed national and Baltic Sea-wide oceanographic measurement programmes. As well as chairing the Steering Group of the European Ocean Observing System (EOOS), she is a member of the scientific and technical advisory group of Euro-Argo ERIC and advisory board member of the Board of European Environmental Research Infrastructures (BEERi) and Finnish Marine Research Infrastructure (FINMARI).

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