[Coral-List] Ocean monitoring X-Prize

Durwood M. Dugger ddugger at biocepts.com
Sun Dec 15 12:50:27 EST 2013

Whether the Ocean Monitoring XPrize effort currently being offered will produce significant results remains to be seen. Given the dimensions of our problems it seems a bit too little too late. Trying to be positive though - its a start. Clearly, environmental monitoring funding and their critically linked environmental repair efforts need to be much, much larger, broader and sooner than later.

What most people - including researchers don't adequately realize is just how weak our abilities are to monitor the environment, the comparability of that monitoring's accuracy such as it is. We're trying to measure 0.1 degree C annual temperature changes with instruments that do good to measure +/-1.0-2.0 degrees, and measure pH changes at 0.001 with pH meter instruments that measure 0.01 pH units at best, but unfortunately provide no dKH units for meaningful impact interpretation. We're trying to monitor sea level rise of 3-4 mm per year with satellite altimetry technology that can only measure to within 20 mm. - and most if not all of these instruments requiring regular re-calibration.  Stack this on top of our lack of hard data comparative bench marks for site specific "norms," and how the majority of our current environmental information depends on dubious GIGO computer modeling/projection - rather than actual hard data and the danger of systemic cumulative error is extremely significant. Even with better data regarding sensitive parameters, they are not particularly meaningful without site specific flow/mixing and dilution information tied to point source inputs. That these monitoring instrumentation challenges are technically and economically daunting is a huge understatement.

These less than ideal monitoring data technology circumstances cut research effort efficiencies both ways, besides being inadequate to accurately understand the impact magnitude of obvious problems, it makes us waste efforts and resources on non-problems for lack of an accurate ability to understand and prioritize their insignificance. In spite of efforts like the Argo system using three thousand monitoring floats deployed in 2010-11, only 10% could monitor O2 and pH. In the best case about 50,000 sq. miles of ocean for each float to monitor for the most basic of environmental parameters.  

We simply have to do better. We need more - less expensive, accurate, self-calibrating, self-maintaining instrumentation. We need to prioritize sensitive areas such as coral reefs for more intensive and 3-D monitoring points. Prioritizing them first by proximate upstream habitation runoff/pollution and or human usage impact threats would be a better start. 

Of course if we don't simultaneously do something meaningful to begin to reduce the global human overpopulation pressures (the source of all anthropogenic environmental problems from climate change to species habit usurpation/destruction related extinctions) no amount of monitoring is going to help given the current global environmental change trend time lines and more importantly (at least for humans) the current trendlines (peaking) and critical resource depletions.  

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