December 11, 2018

Dr. G’s #AGU18 Spotlight – The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want

Posted by Laura Guertin

The AGU Fall Meeting for 2018 is in full swing, with 25,000+ Earth and space scientists zipping around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to attend talks, posters, workshops, and more. I’ll be posting a few highlights from the Fall Meeting, parts that in my view are important and worthy of a special shout-out.

One of the many Town Hall sessions held this week was on the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development ( Here, I share an edited session description:

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021-2030 is a unique ten-year, global cooperative program to expand scientific partnerships to support effective science, ocean management, and sustainable development.  …  Existing scientific networks can catalyze opportunities for new and expanded collaboration, and will be a foundation of planning for the Decade.

The Decade will consist of top down and bottom up science initiatives to map the ocean floor and processes, bolster ocean observation systems in all basins, develop a data and information portal, establish an integrated multi-hazard warning system, advance ocean component in earth-system observation, research and production, and strengthen capacities, ocean literacy and technology cooperation.  The Implementation Plan will seek to achieve additional specific results, driven by the mission needs of society and science, and produce lasting benefits.

This is a short video overview of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development:

This was the first I heard of the upcoming celebration (although it was officially declared on December 5, 2017), and I wanted to learn more. The primary convener was Craig McLean (NOAA Ocean and Atmospheric Research), and he moderated a panel that included Albert Fisher (Director, The IOC-WMO-UNEP-ICSU Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS)), Martin Visbeck (GOEMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research, Kiel University, Germany), Margaret Leinen (Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and David Millar, (Furgo, Government Accounts Director, Americas). The panel discussed the origin and definition of the decade, the larger objective (not just from the IOC but from all UN bodies), where the ideas are coming from in the science community, and the role of industry contributions.

The passion and enthusiasm from the moderator and panelists was evident, and I felt that I was hearing important information that would play a significant role in dictating the future direction of the discipline. I typed three pages of notes from the Town Hall without even realizing how much information was being shared. Instead of sharing a summary from each presenter, I’ve compiled this list of bullet point to draw attention to some key takeaways:

  • A vision for the decade is to develop scientific knowledge, build infrastructure and foster partnerships for a sustainable and healthy ocean;
  • There is a need to clearly drive home that this is not just a decade of ocean science, but a decade of ocean science and sustainable development;
  • This decade is a once in a career (once in a lifetime) opportunity. The decade will not be successful if we have 20,000 individual science papers – we need to think of the big picture, to define the core opportunities, and to deliver the results;
  • We need to create a understanding for why there is a NEED for this decade. This will require us to build partnerships with people outside of science. We need to work with social scientists to learn why the science is not being used. We need to apply the work and these results to decision making;
  • This UN Decade gives us an instrument, but it doesn’t generate the science. Nothing happens unless we get involved and we actually use it. What is the science necessary for a transparent, sustainable ocean? We have time to talk about how to use this instrument (starts in 2021);
  • We cannot rely on the United Nations to share the message. We need to have the average citizen say that “I know we are in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development!” Let’s make sure this is not a forgotten decade – let’s make it front and center (we are closing on the UN Decade of Biodiversity – and is anyone still talking about this? When was the last time you heard about this?).

AGU members are invited to learn more from the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development website ( and explore their informational videos at the YouTube playlist. There is also an opportunity to provide feedback about the decade via a survey (

As this is the time for planning before the 2021 kickoff, we have an incredible opportunity to work among our communities, whether they be educational (K-12 schools, universities, museums, etc.), political, economic, social, etc. The final words from the panelists were:

“Let’s make this count!”

I absolutely agree and hope to do my part in this planning stage and throughout the decade. Who’s with me?


[I include two additional videos below – please start sharing information about the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development!]