Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 10 Spring 1992 Going with the flow Up-to-date information on dozens of ships and thousands of instruments involved in a global ocean study flows through Oceanic, an on-line information system at the College of Marine Studies complex in Lewes, Del. Under the direction of Ferris Webster, oceanography professor, the University maintains an international data information unit for the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). Involving scientists from over 40 nations through the end of the '90s, WOCE is itself part of a decade-old international scientific program concerned with climate prediction. The University's Oceanic system keeps track of ongoing observations world-wide and maintains a directory of data sets, as well as an oceanographic research ship schedule, with information on cruise dates, name of the chief scientist, region to be covered and proposed scientific program. More than 1,000 researchers log onto the Oceanic system each month, Webster says. A request for information by a researcher in Germany, for example, may result in a computer-generated map of the Atlantic Ocean, with lines illustrating where ships are planning to go or locations of drifting instruments. Now in its fourth year of funding by the National Science Foundation, the on-line information system is available 24 hours a day. "Since we have an uninterruptable power source, the computer is seldom down, except for maintenance," Webster says. Although Oceanic includes summaries of research projects, the system is intended to refer researchers to the appropriate data directory. "We like to know which people have the measurements, not what the data are," Ferris says. "We couldn't handle billions of measurements, so we let the researchers keep them in their computers and we direct people to them. Under the WOCE program, ocean measurements are being made with the ultimate goal of determining how the ocean influences global and regional climates. Satellites measure the shape of the ocean's surface, which is deformed by currents, sea surface temperature and surface winds. Scientists on research vessels take temperature and salinity measurements to compute the density of the ocean, because density determines the pressure that drives currents. And direct measurements of currents are made with such instruments as moored meters, deep floats and surface drifters. "If the greenhouse effect indeed warms up the world, the ocean could be a big reservoir for excess heat and carbon dioxide," Webster says. "We know that the upper 10 feet of the ocean has the same heat capacity as the entire atmosphere. We would like to know how much heat the ocean can hold, what control the ocean exerts over the heat, and how it carries heat and carbon dioxide from the surface layers to deeper, colder layers. "Once we understand ocean circulation, we can model the role of the ocean in relation to the atmosphere to make long-term predictions about climate change."