IMOS: national capability, global reach

Australia is a marine nation with the third largest ocean territory on Earth, ranging from the high tropics to Antarctica, Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean.

We derive massive economic, social and environmental benefits from the marine environment, through marine industries, maritime defence, coastal ecosystem services, climate and weather, and marine biodiversity.

However the ocean is a globally connected system. We cannot observe and understand Australia’s vast and valuable ocean estate without significant international collaboration. Nor can the international community close key knowledge gaps in globally significant Southern Hemisphere oceans without strong collaboration in the Australian region.

How has the facility achieved this?

Since the 1990’s, our ability to observe, analyse and predict the Earth system, and particularly the marine environment, has been revolutionised by advances in sensors, platforms, data and computing. With 98 per cent of global innovation occurring overseas, Australia was at risk of failing to capitalise on these developments without a nationally funded and coordinated effort in integrated marine observing and data management to focus international collaboration and co-investment.

This is where the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) — supported by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) — comes in.

IMOS has transformed Australia’s marine observation and data management capability over the last decade. By giving priority to integrated marine observing at the national level, we have attracted significant collaboration from the world’s most scientifically advanced nations, and established a leadership position in our region. 

Results

Thanks to support from IMOS, the organisation Argo Australia has turned a pilot project into a cornerstone of the international Argo programme. Argo is a global network of free-drifting profiling floats that measures the temperature and salinity of the upper 2000 m of the ocean. Ten percent of the global 3800 float array is now active in our region, and Australian scientists are in programme leadership positions alongside United States scientists. Argo measurements are revolutionising our understanding of global ocean heat content and the global hydrological cycle. These are incredibly important issues for Australia as a country dominated by cycles of drought and flood.

Another area being revolutionised is deep-water moorings. Australia is surrounded by ocean currents that have never been systematically and sustainably monitored. They include the Indonesian Throughflow, which transmits climate signals from the tropical Pacific to the Indian Ocean, and the East Australian Current which transfers heat and nutrients from the tropical Pacific to the Southern Ocean. Through IMOS, and in collaboration with the US, China, Indonesia and Timor-Leste, deep-water moorings providing observations of variability and change have now been established in these globally significant regions.

Ocean radar and ocean glider technologies are also being improved. Through IMOS, national ocean radar and ocean glider capabilities have been established which position us to participate in and benefit from exciting international developments in these areas.

Animal tagging and monitoring is another area being supported by IMOS. For many key marine species of commercial and environmental significance, surprisingly little is known about their survival, movement, habitat use and response to ocean change. Modern tagging technologies can provide this information and IMOS has established a national animal tagging and monitoring facility that forms a key component of the global Ocean Tracking Network. The IMOS tagging database now has 55 million detections, creating an entirely new resource to support fisheries and marine ecosystem research and management.

“IMOS investments in global ocean observing have enabled a more complete understanding of the role of the ocean in weather and climate and improved predictions of societally-relevant environmental changes. IMOS leadership has been instrumental in advancing the global ocean observing enterprise and collaboration with Australia has benefited research and forecasting undertaken by the United States.”

Dr David Legler, Chief, Climate Observations Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Did you know?

  • IMOS was established in 2006‑07 as a foundation capabilities supported under NCRIS, helping IMOS become a very significant component of the national research infrastructure fabric.
  • IMOS routinely deploys a wide range of observing equipment throughout Australia’s coastal and open oceans, making all of its data accessible to the marine and climate science community, other stakeholders and users, and international collaborators.
  • IMOS is led by the University of Tasmania in partnership with the CSIRO, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Antarctic Division, Sydney Institute of Marine Science (encompassing the University of New South Wales, Sydney University, Macquarie University and University of Technology Sydney), University of Western Australia, Curtin University, James Cook University and the South Australian Research and Development Institute.
  • This multi-institutional collaboration is crucial to the success of IMOS, as no single institution has the capability and capacity required to implement a nationally integrated marine observing system.

The Australian Government is proud to provide funding for the important work of through NCRIS.

You can find out more about IMOS and about other NCRIS initiatives on their websites.