Operational oceanography, or how to forecast “what the ocean will be”

Simulation Actimar - Brest bay

Simulation of discharge release in Brest Bay © Actimar

Oceanography: oceanic weather forecasts? While meteorology consists of analysing atmospheric phenomena to forecast the weather, operational oceanography consists of studying meteorological and ocean phenomena to forecast “what the ocean will be”. Numerous parameters—water levels, temperature, salinity and, more recently, water quality— are assessed, measured and forecast in real time, and their analysis becomes more complex closer to the coastline.
Close-up on a discipline that is still young and growing fast, with the help of the staff from Actimar, SUEZ’s subsidiary dedicated to this activity.

Between 2005 and 2015, one of the world’s biggest maritime transport companies slashed its CO2 emissions by 50%. Today, the company wants to go even further, and is calling on Actimar 's expertise in operational oceanography. Thanks to precise current forecasts, the company will be able to optimise the routes followed by its ships in zones where the current is predominant, in order to save fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

For maritime shippers, specialists in offshore energy, port authorities and operators performing offshore works, optimising and securing their operations, when faced with problems due to storms, swell or currents, is often a crucially important issue. Operational oceanography aims to address exactly these needs. This young discipline, which was still embryonic 15 years ago, was initially intended to serve sea defence purposes. It has since gradually been extended to meet a broad variety of needs expressed by numerous operators, especially those working on coastlines

Understanding the ocean in real time

“It is our job to forecast all the oceanic parameters that have a significant impact on maritime activity and the environment, and to meet the needs of many sea users,” sums up Laurent Vigier, Managing Director of Actimar.

“Our expertise extends to the qualification of these forecasts. By comparing them with the weather forecasts for the general public with a confidence index, we can qualify our own forecasts with a reliability index that is established by comparing them with the actual data from in situ and satellite measurements.”
The service is usually delivered to customers on an online platform that aggregates, checks and displays these parameters in real time, whether they come from measurements or models.

Operational oceanography dedicated to maritime routing  © Actimar

Measuring the impact of human activity

Traditionally, these measurement and forecasting systems are applied to parameters such as swell, currents, sea level, wind, temperature and salinity. As well as making forecasts, Actimar also conducts in-depth studies that analyse the inter-relations between the marine ecosystem and human activity, using digital simulations or investigations. These studies assess the impacts of human activity on oceanic parameters (changes in the waves, currents, transportation of sediments, etc.) or on biodiversity. One example is the characterisation of the environmental impact of industrial discharges, or of the discharge of treated water from wastewater treatment plants. Other studies determine the oceanic factors affecting the design of offshore structures, for example by analysing the effects of centennial waves on oil rigs.

Operational oceanography is finding an increasingly diverse range of applications for several reasons. The environmental regulations are more stringent, the sea traffic is rising and new industrial activities, such as renewable marine energy, are expanding. By way of example, Actimar has installed a radar at the entrance to the Bosphorus Strait to monitor currents in an increasingly busy zone. The company can also predict the drift of vessels in order to avoid the consequences of a breakdown, or calculate the drift of floating objects or pollutants in order to facilitate operations and protect the marine environment.

“We are learning how to better control human activity on the oceans. 10 or 15 years ago, operators working at sea had access to reliable information (currents, temperature, salinity), but this information was not sufficiently precise in coastal zones, where most human activity takes place,” explains Actimar’s Sales Manager, Philippe Craneguy. “Today, operational oceanography can provide a sufficiently precise response to the needs of many operators, especially near the coast,” he continues, mentioning the increased precision of models and measurements, and the evolutions in knowledge.

An expanding field of action

As part of the Microplastic research project driven by SUEZ in Marseille Bay and Brest Bay, Actimar is developing models to quantify the dispersion of particles of micro-plastics in the marine ecosystem and to locate the zones where they are concentrated. For Philippe Craneguy, “This project is a precursor of the operational oceanography of the future: the extension of its scope of action from the conventional parameters (wind, swell, currents) to environmental parameters (turbidity, micro-particles and their interactions with the environment).”

Jean-Pierre Mazé, an engineer at Actimar, adds: “We are moving towards answers to other types of problems, such as the sedimentary balance or the biogeochemical balance. These are major problems, for which current technologies are not yet sufficiently mature.” Better monitoring and forecasting the quality of marine ecosystems: an impetus and course that allow the arrival of new operational services, and more complete oceanic forecasts.
This article was published in the third issue of open_resource magazine: «The oceans, future of the blue planet»


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