August 3, 2021

“To better probe the oceans, we would need autonomous vehicles, buoys, beacons …”

Within the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission (IOC), an organization based at Unesco in Paris, Julian Barbière, head of the marine policies and regional coordination section, testifies to the state of global oceanographic research.

What is the role of the IOC?

Its mission is to develop international cooperation, the coordination of research and marine observation programs, the conservation of marine environments, and risk mitigation. For example, we have been managing tsunami warning systems since the early 1960s.

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The IOC was created on the initiative of scientists after an international expedition to the Indian Ocean in 1960. We have 180 members: the American agency responsible for the study of the ocean and the atmosphere, the Ministry of the French environment, that of the ocean and fisheries for Canada… Our role is to synthesize knowledge and communicate it to political decision-makers. This is what we did for example in the early 2000s with regard to ocean acidification, which was then an emerging issue.

Have you contributed to the “World Ocean Assessment”?

We were at the base of this evaluation work. The United Nations General Assembly asked us for a feasibility study in 2005-2006, then the States took control of this process. Much remains to be done in the field of oceanographic sciences: they are still young compared to weather, for which there are data series more than a hundred years old and which benefits from established international cooperation. The regular observation of chemical parameters is recent. Ocean monitoring is flawed. It should be strengthened around the poles, more study of the water column. We go up to 2,000 meters below the surface with the Argo system, no lower, while we are just beginning to understand that transformations are underway at depth. The mining industries want to go to these great funds whose ecosystems we know little about. There may still be 700,000 to 1 million species to be discovered, not counting bacteria! The IOC wishes to promote the principle of global planning, organized and participatory, to decide with all the actors of the areas devoted to tourism, navigation, energy production, etc.

What would it take to promote the advancement of research?

We would need autonomous vehicles, buoys, beacons… It is always the same twenty States which contribute to the studies. In our report “Mapping capacities for ocean sustainability”, published at the end of 2020, it appears that on average only 1.7% of national research budgets are allocated to ocean sciences. As part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), which began in February, we are going to announce the launch of around thirty innovative international scientific programs on biodiversity, the ocean link -weather…

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