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European Geosciences Union

Ocean sciences

The seas cover more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. They hold and transport heat and carbon, thereby affecting weather and climate. They are also an important food source. Ocean waves, tides and local strong currents all pose challenges to mariners. Thus, modern society needs to understand the oceans, their impacts, and how these may change in the future.

Ocean processes and their impacts can be simulated using modern oceanographic models. Current practises using coupled atmosphere-ocean models are used in a multitude of applications including: safe shipping operations, conditions for fishing, flood warnings, renewable energy developments, harmful algal blooms, responses to spills, water quality, search and rescue, navigation, and recreational activities.

Oceans also play a major and fundamental role in how the Earth is reacting to climate change. Presently more than a quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions are absorbed into the oceans leading to ocean acidification. Climate change is also leading to sea-level rise, and heat uptake into the oceans (90% of warming between 1971 and 2010 was absorbed by oceans).

Finally, oceans provide us with many resources. The sustainable use of these oceanic resources (minerals, renewable energy, etc.) requires management and knowledge of seafloor and sub-seabed processes.

Current EU policy

The EU Water Framework Directive (2000) seeks protection of transitional (estuarine) and coastal waters which “prevents further deterioration and protects and enhances the status of aquatic ecosystems“ and “promotes sustainable water use“ referring to “specific measures for the progressive reduction of discharges, emissions and losses of priority hazardous substances“. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008) aims to “protect and preserve the marine environment” and “ensure that there are no significant impacts on or risks to marine biodiversity, marine ecosystems, human health or legitimate uses of the sea”. MSFD lists 11 descriptors of “Good Environmental Status” which have been translated by marine scientists to targets and indicators for marine constituents.

Future challenges

Although oceans can have a large impact on society they are grossly under-sampled. Typical time-scales of ocean impacts range from days to decades, and spatial scales from local to global. Internal oceanic processes and inputs occur from molecular to whole-ocean scales, which can take centuries of evolution.

To better understand and predict these processes, and thus their impacts on society, measurements with greater resolution and extent are required. Consequently, a greater understanding of our oceans through the use of measurements improves the simulated processes in ocean models.

Some prevalent challenges in ocean research are:

EGU ocean science research areas

The overall scope of ocean science (covered by the EGU journal Ocean Science) includes:

The coverage is worldwide, from the surf zone at the shore to the deep ocean. Approaches are via measurements (develop instruments), remote sensing, laboratory/theory, models.

Recent EGU papers

The EGU journal Ocean Science has published two special issues with papers concerning operational oceanography:

Other recent EGU papers that focus on ocean science include:


With special thanks to Dr John Huthnance, researcher at the National Oceanography Centre, UK, for drafting this webpage.

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