Widespread and sustained in situ ocean measurements are essential to an improved understanding of the state of the ocean and its role in global change. Merchant marine vessels can play a major role in ocean monitoring, yet apart from routine weather observations and upper-ocean temperature measurements, they constitute a vastly underutilized resource due to lack of suitable instrumentation. Examples of ways in which vessels can assist include profiling techniques of physical properties, chemical sampling via automated water samplers, optical techniques to measure various biological parameters, and ground truth measurements for remote sensing from orbiting and geostationary satellites. Further, ships can act as relays between subsurface instrumentation and satellite communication services.
To take advantage of the opportunities that the maritime industry can provide, two steps must be taken. The first is to initiate an instrumentation development program with emphasis on techniques optimized for highly automated use onboard ships at 15-20-kt speeds. The second is to forge partnerships or links between academic and government laboratories and the maritime industry for the institution and maintenance of such monitoring programs. No doubt significant resources will be required, but in the long run the improved ability to monitor the state of ocean in situ will make the effort more than worthwhile.