Wednesday, January 17, 2018
NOAA and international partners plan upgrade of global weather and ocean observing system

NOAA and international partners plan upgrade of global weather and ocean observing system

Monday, June 26, 2017

NOAA met with ocean observations experts from six nations and 13 global organizations in May 2017 in Honolulu, Hawaii, to plan for the redesign of the Tropical Pacific Observing System by the year 2020 (TPOS 2020).

TPOS is an ocean-based monitoring network comprised of a variety of observing technologies, operated by NOAA and other foreign partners.  This network provides the essential ocean data needed to understand important environmental phenomenon and develop weather and climate forecasts for the US and countries around the world.

Seasonal forecasts and prediction of El Niño and La Niña events, driven by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), depend upon the ocean and weather conditions monitored by TPOS.  El Niño occurs when the sea surface waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean warm significantly above average and La Niña events occur when these waters cool to temperatures below average.

Tropical Pacific observing system

Tropical Pacific observing system

Plotted in blue circles are the sites of the the moored buoy array that is part of the Tropical Pacific Observing System developed by NOAA and partners. The observing system is located across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Shaded in the background are the May 2017 sea surface temperature anomalies where red areas represent warmer than average conditions and blue areas represent colder than average conditions. The observing system provides weather, climate and ocean data that supports weather, climate and ocean forecasts in the US and around the world. NOAA image
These changes can drive shifts in United States weather patterns across the nation as well as  global patterns of rain and resulting floods, drought and accompanying wildfires, and can lead to shifts of fisheries stocks, among many other effects. Accurate ENSO predictions can protect lives and property, boost economic prosperity, and provide vital information for global decision-makers, private industries, and others to plan for the future.

Since the original tropical Pacific moored array was launched in the late 1980s, scientists have gained a better understanding of ENSO with continuing observations from TPOS, enabling forecasts of upcoming ENSO events that help countries to prepare for impacts. Now scientists are working to boost the reliability of TPOS to improve forecasts of the onset, duration, and intensity of ENSO events and their regional-to-local impacts.

The enhancements to TPOS envisioned in the TPOS 2020 First Report, which was released in December 2016, will optimize buoy locations, encourage more voluntary ship and research cruise observations, and incorporate new, more affordable ocean observing technologies. The participating organizations endorsed the recommendations of the report and formed an implementation team charged with developing a concrete strategy to bring these upgrades to fruition.

The TPOS 2020 initiative depends on strong international partnerships and continued US engagement. Success of this initiative will accelerate advances in the understanding and prediction of weather and climate in the tropical Pacific and their effects on multiple sectors in the US and around the globe, ranging from agriculture, marine ecosystems, human health to disaster preparedness. 

The participating organizations included:

Bureau of Meteorology (Australia); Comision Permanente del Pacifico Sur; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Australia);  France Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement; Indonesia Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Agency; Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission; International Center for the Investigation of the El Nino Phenomenon; Japan Marine-Earth Science and Technology Center; National Aeronautics and Space Agency (United States); National Marine Env. Forecasting Center, State Oceanic Administration (China); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (United States); Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (China); Republic of Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology; Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

Link to recent story on the Tropical Pacific Observing System, "Dearest TAO: A love letter to marine-based observations.

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, director of public affairs for NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, at 301-734-1123 or by email at

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