The first of several probes is being launched
into the oceans to help weather forecasters and scientists better
understand the world’s climates, announced U.S.
Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta
. The Argo
Ocean Profiling Network
is an international effort to collect
and share information on the temperature, currents, and salinity
– or saltiness – of the world’s oceans that will be used
to better predict the influence of events such as El
and La
on our seasonal climate. The U.S. has committed
to providing at least one-third of the 3,000 float network over
the next three years.

"The oceans are an indispensable link
to our daily lives and America’s prosperity," Secretary
Mineta said. "To continue to reap the oceans’ riches, yet
preserve their fragile assets for future generations, we must
consider a course change that includes, exploration, protection,
and education."

"Floating sensors, small as they may
appear, are actually giants in the field of ocean and climate
information collecting," D.
James Baker, NOAA administrator
. "We will no longer
have to wait months and years for data deep in the ocean from
ships. The floats will collect data – more measurements
than we are currently gathering – and send the information
back in real-time."

Since weather and climate are linked to
the ocean, data from the floating observing systems will increase
our knowledge of long-term temperatures as well as help us to
better prepare for major climate events such as hurricanes and
El Niño – that affect human safety, food production,
water management, and transportation.

The United States’ Argo floats will be
joined by other floats from Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom,
France, Germany, Australia, the European Community, India, New
Zealand, Republic of Korea and Spain. Scientists have determined
that 3,000 floats are needed for the full global observing array.
The goal is to have the entire
array of floats
drifting and bobbing throughout the world’s
ice-free oceans by 2003.

Each float
is programmed to sink a mile into the ocean, drifting at that
depth for about 10 days, then slowly rise, measuring temperature
and salinity through the layers as it makes its way to the surface.
At the surface, data is transmitted to a communications satellite
and the probe begins another cycle. Each float is designed to
last 4-5 years. Argo floats can be deployed from ships or by

All data transmitted from the Argo network
are fully and openly available. The U.S. and all other countries
will have immediate access to data from each float without any
restrictions or period of exclusive use.

The Argo network will enhance NOAA’s
extensive ocean observing system
. Information this system
collected led to successful seasonal climate forecasts for the
United States during the 1997-98 El Niño, six months in
advance. Early warnings from this system saved money and lives
worldwide – California suffered $1.1 billion in damage from
floods, half the amount of the non-forecast El Niño of

"The Argo floats are the logical next
step," said David Evans, NOAA assistant administrator for
oceans and atmospheric research.
"Data from Argo’s global system will be integrated into
an ocean observations network and help forecasters better predict
El Niño and other climate events throughout the world."

The U.S. contribution to Argo is funded
by NOAA and the Office of
Naval Research
through the National
Oceanographic Partnership Program
. Argo is being implemented
by NOAA, Scripps Institution
of Oceanography
, University
of Washington
, and Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution
. Argo builds upon more than a decade
of investment in the development of float technology on the part
of the World Ocean
Circulation Experiment
as funded by the National
Science Foundation
and the Office of Naval Research.

The project was named Argo to complement
the Jason-1 satellite,
a joint project between NASA
and France’s Centre National
d’Etudes Spatiales
, to be launched early next year. Argo
was the ship of the mythological Greek hero Jason.