More than a decade ago, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) was in its infancy — a long way from the comprehensive system envisioned as part of an international network of ocean observation systems.
In those early days, many organizations in the Gulf were using ocean instrumentation to gather data, but hosting it individually with little ability to share real-time and near-real-time information quickly and easily among users. Also missing was an organized way to look at overall observational capabilities to determine where overlap was occurring or gaps existed.
Visionaries led dozens of workshops that brought together the Gulf’s best and brightest minds; together they developed an initial plan for a comprehensive regional observing system and began putting the pieces into place that would bring it to life.
That led to the birth of the GCOOS Regional Association (GCOOS-RA), officially created as a member-driven organization in 2005, incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2013 and certified by the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2018. Certification means that GCOOS is meeting federal standards for data gathering and management and operates inclusively, transparently and seeks user input to determine system priorities.
Today, GCOOS is one of 11 certified regional coastal ocean observing systems under the banner of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) and the only one whose sole focus is on the Gulf of Mexico.
GCOOS has grown to members representing the academic, industry, governmental and nongovernmental sectors with organizations streaming data, information and products on marine and estuarine systems to the GCOOS online portal where thousands of users — from ocean modelers to ship captains — have easy access to it when they need it.
In addition to providing a comprehensive online site for data collection and dissemination, GCOOS also undertook a series of workshops to identify societal needs and priorities for new data and products, gaining input from more than 600 people from nearly 300. The result was the development of the GCOOS Build-Out Plan, a comprehensive document that prioritizes observational system implementation, as well as numerous data products. This is a living document regularly reviewed and now in its second version.
Our overall vision is to build a robust, user-driven, sustained, operational GCOOS that integrates physical, meteorological, biogeochemical, biological, bathymetric and other data from diverse providers, assures data consistency and quality and creates new data products needed by users. It will also provide accurate data, products and services to IOOS, decision-makers and the public in a timely and efficient manner to benefit human communities and the economy, as well as natural ecosystems.
While much progress has been made toward a fully developed Gulf observing system, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill provided a vivid example of the ocean observing needs that still exist in the Gulf of Mexico. The GCOOS Strategic Plan provides a further roadmap — complete with priorities, objectives and deliverables — that will help this observing system reach maturity.