New EU project GEORGE brings ERICs together to improve ocean observations with novel technologies

As the Earth’s largest ecosystem, the ocean absorbs massive amounts of carbon and excess heat from the atmosphere. Despite its pivotal role in climate change, global ocean observations have thus far been severely lacking: a major part of the world’s oceans have never been mapped or even seen by humans. A new EU project, GEORGE, aims to do its small part in improving ocean observations through new instruments, platforms and a joint data stream.

ICOS is involved in a new HORIZON-funded project, Next Generation Multiplatform Ocean Observing Technologies for Research Infrastructures (GEORGE). The 4-year project is aimed at improving marine observations in terms of quality, coverage and continuity, through developing novel technologies, particularly autonomous sensors. The new technologies will enable systematic autonomous in situ seawater CO2 system characterisation, and CO2 fluxes on moving and fixed platforms.

GEORGE brings together 28 leading partners from academia and industry alike, including three research infrastructures: EMSO ERICEuro-Argo ERIC and ICOS ERIC. Together these three ERICs cover the whole expanse of European marine waters from coasts to open ocean and from the seabed to the ocean interior and the surface ocean. The project is coordinated by ICOS ERIC and EMSO ERIC.

Other partners include esteemed European research institutes and universities. To enable the scientific work to eventually materialise into real, functional research instruments, the project takes on the expertise of the industry. The goal is that at the end of the project, there will be operational instruments ready for commercialisation, as well as training packages that will help professionals use these new instruments in their daily work.
Systematic approach needed in autonomous observations

Autonomous observations are not at all new in marine science. However, they have so far lacked sustainability and systematic integration.

“A systematic approach is needed to enhance and harmonize technologies, methods and approaches for autonomous observations in order to optimize the quality and coverage of ocean carbon measurements and enhance the long-term sustainability of the ocean carbon observing system. GEORGE makes this possible through the close cooperation between the three ERICS and continuous dialogue with the ocean-observing community” says Socratis Loucaides, Principal Investigator at NOC and leader of the Work package 2.

The development of autonomous sensors for marine observations has seen significant investments in the last decade. New sensing technologies, along with improvements to existing instrumentation, can dramatically enhance the quality of observations and our understanding of the ocean carbonate system.

Similarly, incorporating autonomous platforms, such as biochemical Argo floats, ocean gliders and autonomous surface vehicles into the European ocean observing infrastructure, can enhance the spatial resolution and coverage of marine observations. These new instruments will be able to reach parts of the ocean that are currently inaccessible, such as the deep sea, polar areas and ocean areas outside of commercial ship routes.

“The training packages specifically will have a big societal impact,” says Janne-Markus Rintala, Science Officer at ICOS and coordinator of the GEORGE project. “If successful, technicians from these three RIs will be capable of running observations using any of these tools, as well as understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When all the technicians follow the same training and protocols, they will be able to move from one RI to another. This creates a sustainable pool of skilled staff.”

More information will be available on the GEORGE project website, which will be published in June 2023.