Costs and benefits of Eulerian observations

PAP buoy

Figure: The surface buoy of the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP) observatory included in FixO3 Network. Photo by Richard Lampitt, 2014.

Costs and benefits of multidisciplinary fixed-point ocean observations - Oceanology International 2016 (1.7 MiB)

Sustained ocean observations are crucial for a variety of reasons, but their value is often unclear because they seem not to produce products of direct relevance to society. An analysis led by the National Oceanography Centre estimates the costs of a typical fixed-point observatory, highlights the unique features of these observatories and assesses the type of data and services provided by ocean observations and their value for society.

Sustained ocean observations are crucial to understand both natural processes occurring in the ocean and human influence on the marine ecosystems. The information they provide increases our understanding and is therefore beneficial to the society as a whole because it contributes to a more efficient use and protection of the marine environment, upon which human livelihood depends. In addition the oceans, which occupy 73% of the planet surface and host 93% of the biosphere, play a major role in controlling the climate.

Eulerian or fixed-point observatories are an essential component of the global ocean observing system as they provide several unique features that cannot be found in other systems and are therefore complementary to them. In addition they provide a unique opportunity for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work, combining physical, chemical and biological observations on several time scales. A variety of issues can be studied with Eulerian observatories, from the role of the ocean in the climate system to turbulent mixing and biophysical interactions, from ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity to fluids and life in the ocean crust. Seafloor observatories in particular, offer the opportunity to study multiple, interrelated processes over a wide range of time scales from episodic processes to global and long-term processes.

The fixed-point open ocean observatory network (FixO3) integrates the 23 European open ocean fixed-point observatories located in the Atlantic Ocean from the Arctic to the Antarctic and in the Mediterranean Sea. The program also seeks to improve access to these key installations and the marine knowledge they provide for the wider community, from scientists, to businesses, to civil society.

The capital cost of setting up a typical fully-equipped Eulerian observatory of the kind of those included in the FixO3 network is estimated at 501 k€, while the annual cost for operating it are estimates at 731 k€/year. Considering the 23 observatories included in FixO3 network the total capital cost can be estimated at ca. 11.5 M€, and the cost of operating the whole network (including costs for network coordination and data management) can be estimated at ca. 17 M€/year.

Several cost-benefit reports show that the benefits of investing in sustained ocean observations that provide the essential ocean variables (EOVs) are expected or proven to be higher than the costs, especially on the long-term and if the outcoming information is used by the largest number of end-users. Identified benefits from ocean observations include: (1) economic benefits to the users of ocean data such as reduced operational costs and avoided damage from weather events or ocean conditions; (2) environmental benefits such as better resources management coming from use of current marine data; and (3) social benefits such as better understanding of the marine environment. All these kind of benefits improve human welfare and can be referred to as economic benefits.

Data provided by integrated networks such as FixO3 generates benefits not available with fragmented observatory systems. The FixO3 network of open ocean observatories provides continuous measurement of Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) from the air-sea interface to the deep seafloor. These time-series of ocean data can be used for a variety of purposes by research institutions and the private sector. The project also offers opportunities to access ready-to-use data products (Service Activities) and infrastructures (Transnational Access) allowing for even more valuable benefits to the wider ocean community including governments and industry.

Successful cost-benefit analysis depends upon having access to detailed information about the costs of the infrastructure but also on how a particular industry uses forecasts, and how the data were obtained on which the forecast was based. The values of the benefits that may accrue from single industries or sectors cannot be aggregated into total national or regional benefits unless standardised methods and assumptions have been used. However, even partial benefit assessments help with supporting the case for investing in ocean observations as it is not necessary to know all the costs and benefits involved.

The full report (D6.6) is available here.