World Ocean Census - Extract 10 - Census data available to the world

4 March 2010

Census of Marine Life scientists are gathering a growing bank of data about marine life. They are analyzing and compiling this information, sharing it with a community of ocean scientists worldwide, and making it publicly accessible through an online database. Because all the data produced by Census projects are being made available, it is becoming possible to generate a comprehensive picture of marine biodiversity in the past, present and future.

Researchers are using both traditional and high-tech methods of visualizing how habitats and biodiversity change across geographic regions. These methods include standard mapping techniques, which can also be presented to show changes over time and space. The most commonly used approach, GIS (geographic information systems) mapping, uses computer technology to visually represent measurements of many different types of physical and biological characteristics for a specific geographic area. This technology is very helpful for examining population abundance, such as the density of plankton found in a bay, or physical characteristics of the environment, such as the temperature of seawater. Specialized computer programs can combine data for different characteristics on one map, with each characteristic represented by its own color. This creates a clear image of specific characteristics that can be compared to each other over the area in question.

Database managers are using computer technology to correlate and pool all the data gathered by the Census projects, such as species numbers and distribution, water temperature and nutrient availability. A key effort of the Census is an interactive online database called the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), a Web-based provider of global, geographically referenced information on individual marine species. Users anywhere in the world can click on a map on their computer and bring up Census data on what lives in the ocean zone of interest. For example, OBIS enables the user to overlay images of the abundance and distribution of predatory populations on top of those of prey populations, shedding light on the inter-dynamics of the food web. To date, integrating such data throughout the water column has been difficult, but the shared standards and protocols of OBIS will make it easier, opening the door to improved understanding of the patterns and processes that govern marine life.

Text and images reprinted with permission from World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life by Darlene Trew Crist, Gail Scowcroft and James M. Harding Jr., Firefly Books, 2009.

Buy the World Ocean Census on Amazon >>

<< Extract 9                               Extract 11 >>