Operational Oceanography is like weather monitoring and forecasting for the ocean. It can provide estimates of essential ocean variables (e.g. sea level, temperature and currents) for the present and the future, as well as for the past.
Present estimates are called Nowcasts and provide descriptions of the present state of the ocean. Future estimates called Forecasts are updated regularly, typically for one to two weeks ahead. Reanalyses and hindcasts can also be produced to provide descriptions of past states, and time series showing trends and changes. Hindcasts are typically the "best" estimates having the greatest number of observations and the best available quality control.
Operational Oceanography depends on availability of ocean observations and super-computer facilities, and uses computer models and mathematical techniques that have been developed over several decades. It is designed to deliver stakeholder defined outputs and products on a routine basis, using robust and fully supported production and dissemination techniques.
Ocean observations are required in real-time and near-real-time (within a few days or minutes of collection) and sourced from various national and international programs. Some are run in an operational setting (e.g. IOC/WMO), and some are maintained through research funding (e.g. IMOS).
Most Operational Oceanography systems are run at national weather centres (e.g. Bureau of Meteorology), and often depend on coordinated efforts from multiple organisations (e.g. Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO and RAN). Australia’s operational ocean forecast system operated at the Bureau has been developed under a partnership called BLUElink.
Operational Oceanography can be used to improve safety of life at sea, help create wealth, and assist in the security and protection of the marine environment. Outputs can be used to generate data products, applications and services through national authorities, as well as in some cases through other organisations such as metocean service providers and environmental consultants. Examples are:
Operational oceanographic programs are well established in countries such as USA, Japan and France. In Australia, a number of products and services are well established while others are developing, and include:
There is, as yet, no widely accepted definition of Operational Oceanography. However a working definition provided by the European component of the Global Ocean Observing System (EuroGOOS) is as follows:
“Operational Oceanography can be defined as the activity of systematic and long-term routine measurements of the seas and oceans and atmosphere, and their rapid interpretation and dissemination”.