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The challenge

We need to know more about the ocean’s role in a changing climate

The oceans store and transport vast amounts of heat. Three metres of ocean has the same heat capacity as the entire atmosphere, so it plays a large role in climate changes seasonally and over longer time periods.

Improving our understanding of ocean processes will enable us to forecast climate and ocean conditions more accurately.

Our response

Monitoring our oceans with robotic floats

We're part of a major international effort to improve our understanding of the ocean through the use of a global array of robotic floats, known as Argo floats.

Diagram showing the Argo robotic float cycle process. First the float is dropped into the ocean. The float then descends to 2000 metres and its sensors are turned on. When it ascends the data is transmitted via satellite to the research station. The cycle continues.

Explaining the Argo robotic float cycle process.

Argo robotic floats are the only means to collect the subsurface observations needed to provide year-round, near real-time information on ocean conditions.

Australia launched the first ten Argo floats in the Indian Ocean in 1999. There are now thousands of Argo floats in operation world-wide.

The floats drift at depths of between 1 and 2 km, before ascending to the surface every ten days, measuring temperature and salinity as they rise. The data are then transmitted to satellites, before the float dives and starts a new cycle.

Argo robotic floats can be deployed from research or commercial ships, and also from aircraft. They are the only means to collect the subsurface observations needed to provide year-round, near real-time information on ocean conditions.

Argo is sponsored by the World Climate Research Programme's Climate Variability and Predictability project (CLIVAR) and by the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE). It is a pilot project of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere operates Argo Australia, which is a component of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). Argo floats are deployed, real-time processed, and delayed-mode processed at CSIRO. Argo Australia is operated by CSIRO with cash and operational support from the Bureau of Meteorology, financial support from IMOS, CSIRO, the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre and the Australian Government Environment Department.

Bio Argo - enhancing our understanding of the ocean

'Bio Argo' floats, launched in 2014, are measuring large-scale changes in the chemistry and biology of marine ecosystems below the Indian Ocean's surface.

The 'Bio Argo' floats include additional sensors for dissolved oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, and particle scattering. They target specific gaps in our understanding of Indian Ocean ecosystems of immediate concern to India and Australia, such as the Bay of Bengal and the waters of north Western Australia.

We are leading the Bio-argo project in collaboration with the Indian National Institute of Oceanography (CSIR-NIO) and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services.

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