Ocean carbon research, observations, and modelling are conducted at national, regional, and global levels to quantify the global ocean uptake of atmospheric CO2 and to understand controls of this process, the variability of uptake and vulnerability of carbon fluxes into the ocean. These science activities require support by a sustained, international effort that provides a central communication forum and coordination services to facilitate the compatibility and comparability of results from individual efforts and development of the ocean carbon data products that can be integrated with the terrestrial, atmospheric and human dimensions components of the global carbon cycle.
As early as 1979, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the importance of the ocean’s role in global climate change and formed the first Committee on Climate Change and the Ocean (CCCO) which, in 1984, established a CO2 Advisory Panel, to provide international coordination for ocean carbon and biogeochemical measurements. The Panel called for a carbon observation program and sampling strategy that could determine the global oceanic CO2 inventory to an accuracy of 10-20 petagrams of carbon (Pg C), which was at least twice as accurate as the best estimates at the time.
In 1987, SCOR and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU, now the International Council for Science) gathered the leading experts on ocean carbon cycle science for a meeting in Paris to agree on the goals, scientific elements, and organizational structure for an internationally coordinated research project known as the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS). Meeting participants recognized that understanding the ocean carbon cycle would be central to JGOFS and that global oceanic CO2 measurements would be critical to that understanding. At the same time, the international physical oceanographic community was also organizing the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). At the intersection of the WOCE and JGOFS projects was an opportunity for a comprehensive global survey of ocean carbon distributions that could accomplish the CO2 inventory goal set by the CCCO CO2 Advisory Panel. In September 1988, the Joint SCOR-JGOFS-CCCO Advisory Panel on Ocean CO2 was created to provide the primary focal point for international planning and commitments for implementing the carbon observations. The Panel facilitated the standardization of analyses by helping to organize instrument comparison exercises and establishing internationally agreed standard protocols. By January 1994, the Panel had helped produce the protocols for the JGOFS core measurements and the CO2 Methods Handbook which included the use of newly developed Certified Reference Materials (CRMs) for the inorganic carbon measurements.
With the completion of the JGOFS/WOCE field components in the late 1990s and the emergence of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), the CO2 Advisory Panel was restructured as the Joint SCOR-IOC Advisory Panel on Ocean CO2, with a focus on developing recommendations for an ocean carbon observing system, including data management and synthesis activities, and on providing scientific and technical advice on ocean carbon sequestration. This new Panel met for the first time in 2000 and laid the foundations for establishing a global ocean carbon observation system. Although the number of research cruises decreased dramatically at the end of the JGOFS/WOCE program, the number of surface CO2 observations continued to increase. Part of the reason was because of the increasing number of underway CO2 systems deployed on research vessels and commercial Ships of Opportunity (SOOP). The SCOR-IOC Advisory Panel on Ocean CO2 was able to help facilitate the growth of SOOP carbon observations through sponsorship of pCO2 system comparison exercises and its IOC connection to the developing GOOS, which was also outfitting commercial ships with physical oceanographic equipment. The surface pCO2 database had grown from approximately 250,000 measurements in 1997 (30 years’ of observations) to more than 940,000 in 2002. As part of the JGOFS/WOCE synthesis phase, the SCOR-IOC Advisory Panel on Ocean CO2 coordinated the collection and quality control of the publicly available survey data through the Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (GLODAP). Complimentary efforts were started through CARINA and PICES, to gather and archive data sets that were not publicly available so they would not be lost to the community. In 2004, this newly developed GLODAP synthesized dataset together with the revised calculation technique allowed the community to estimate that the total accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 in the ocean between 1800 and 1994 was 118 +/- 19 Pg C, just within the uncertainty goals set by the original SCOR-IOC-CCCO CO2 Advisory Panel 20 years earlier.
In the early 2000s, the existing model of coordination of ocean carbon science activities by a small advisory panel that made recommendations was no longer able to meet the coordination needs of the community. With this incentive, the SCOR-IOC Advisory Panel on Ocean CO2 joined with the newly formed Global Carbon Project (GCP) to develop a pilot project called the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP). A new approach to international coordination, focused on implementing coordination actions rather than simply providing scientific and technical advice, was developed with support from the sponsor organizations for secretariat support for the project. The IOCCP continued to coordinate a highly diverse set of activities to facilitate the development of globally acceptable strategies, methodologies, practices and standards, homogenizing efforts of the research community and scientific advisory groups as well as integrating ocean carbon programs and activities into globally integrated Earth system observing networks. After two international stakeholders’ meetings, the IOCCP was recognized as a successful model for global-scale coordination and was requested to expand its mandate to include communication and coordination services for the full range of ocean carbon variables (not only CO2) and to assist the global, regional, and national research programs, as requested, with coordination of research activities (not just large-scale observations). In 2005, IOC and SCOR agreed to make the IOCCP a standing project, replacing the CO2 Panel, with new terms of reference approved by the SCOR Executive Council and the 23rd Session of the IOC Assembly.
The IOCCP, with its activities evolving to meet new challenges as the science progresses coordinates a highly diverse set of ocean carbon activities (e.g., repeat hydrography, underway pCO2, ocean time-series stations, ocean acidification, surface and interior ocean synthesis activities, data products, standards and methods) through extensive collaboration and dialogue with the scientific community via national and international organizations, scientific steering committees, scientific workshops, and expert meetings. IOCCP also works closely with numerous research and observation programs to maintain the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.
The IOCCP also works directly with the GOOS-GCOS-WCRP Ocean Observations Panel for Climate (OOPC) and the WMO-IOC Joint Technical Commission on Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) to integrate ocean carbon observation information into the plans of the Global Observing Systems for Climate in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Group on Earth Observations, and other international and intergovernmental strategies.
To learn more about the history of coordination of the global ocean carbon observations please read this article article published in the Oceanography magazine by Chris Sabine and colleagues in 2010.