Crew aboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer deploy equipment that will collect data for the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series.
Crew aboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer deploy equipment that will collect data for the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series. Credit: Juliet Hermes

Our regional and global understanding of the ocean is based on an immense collection of observations. Sensors on ships, submersibles, gliders, fixed moorings, and other platforms generate gigabytes of data on a wide array of phenomena, including ocean-climate interactions, ecosystem change, and ocean dynamics.

Models using these baseline data can provide predictions for the future that will prepare societies for global change while fueling scientific and commercial innovation. High-quality observations are the culmination of years of methodological development; however, many documents describing these best practices are scattered online or buried in institutional archives. Unfortunately, this hinders consistent observation and the exchange of knowledge between communities.

A student (left) is trained on how to analyze dissolved oxygen as part of the Agulhas System Climate Array. A workshop last fall convened to ensure such lessons are standardized around the world.

An international working group is seeking to consolidate these valuable best practice documents to facilitate improved discovery and access. Representatives from major global ocean observing networks and programs met at a November 2017 workshop at the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) offices in Paris to define what a sustainable repository of best practices should look like.

Best practices for sensors, platforms, data management, and analyses should be retained as well as those for modeling procedures.

Workshop participants determined that the path forward centers on the adoption of the Ocean Best Practices (OBP) “repository,” developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (UNESCO-IODE). The UNESCO-IODE repository is a sustained, open access, and internationally recognized store of standard operating procedures, manuals, operating guidelines, and documentation of methods. It is focused on offering to the ocean community the best practices that have repeatedly produced superior results relative to other methodologies with the same objective and applied in the same environmental context.

The participants also recommended that the repository store best practices along the whole observation process. In other words, best practices for sensors, platforms, data management, and analyses should be retained as well as those for modeling procedures. With this momentum, the OBP repository will soon grow substantially to help users navigate, discover, and access content relevant to their needs. This is now a priority.

Participants at the Paris meeting endorsed proposals to upgrade the system’s indexing and search technology. A combination of digital object identifier (DOI)-based document identification, natural language processing, and semantic indexing technologies constitutes the first step toward an advanced archiving system aligned to the Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable principles. Such a system will greatly support the dissemination of high-quality methods, particularly to early-career ocean observers and researchers in developing countries.

As one initiative in this expanded capability, the journal Frontiers in Marine Science created a new research topic focused on best practices in ocean observation to encourage broad community dialogue. Here authors can describe their contributions to the OBP repository and benefit from peer review, academic crediting, and high community visibility. The journal also welcomes commentaries and reviews on best practices to stimulate cooperation among expert communities.

The OBP repository and Frontiers in Marine Science are now welcoming submissions. We encourage the ocean observing community to participate in this drive to sustainably improve consistency and interoperability among observations at all scales.

We would like to acknowledge the Best Practice Working Group and workshop attendees and the Atlantic Ocean Observing Systems (AtlantOS), Ocean Data Interoperability Platform (ODIP), IODE, IOC, Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM), the National Science Foundation–funded RCN:OceanObs, Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Balearic Islands Coastal Observing and Forecasting System (SOCIB).

—Juliet Hermes (, South African Environmental Observation Network, Cape Town; also at University of Cape Town, South Africa; also at Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Jay Pearlman, IEEE, Paris, France; and Pier Luigi Buttigieg, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany


Hermes, J.,Pearlman, J., and Buttigieg, P. L. (2018), What’s the best way to responsibly collect ocean data?, Eos, 99, Published on 04 May 2018.

Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.