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 Oceanographer Uses Systems Argo and GO-SHIP to Track Ocean Temperature

September 1, 2021

By Emma Smith

Research Experience for High School Students (REHS)

San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC)

According to UC San Diego Assistant Professor of Physical Oceanography Sarah Purkey, over 90 percent of the total human-caused warming in the Earth system ends up in the ocean. 


“The common misconception that global warming only impacts the atmosphere  leads many to believe the issue is not as pressing as it really is,” said Purkey.  “In reality, the warming that we experience living in the troposphere is only the tip of the iceberg.  Most of the heat ends up in the ocean. This warming can impact ecosystems that are essential to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean, dampening the ocean’s ability to take up carbon dioxide, just causing the cycle to go on and on.”


To address this time sensitive issue, Purkey recently used National Science Foundation-funded systems Argo and GO-SHIP to study how drastically the ocean temperature is changing, and use novel tools to manage and share data with worldwide climate scientists.

What exactly are Argo and GO-SHIP?

Argo has been used by scientists for many years to measure ocean temperature, salinity, pressure and additional sea data - between the surface to about 2000 meters below the surface. Specifically, the Argo team deployed international robotic floats that  travel with the ocean’s currents, adjusting their buoyancy to cover the entire depth range. Since the temperature in the upper half of the ocean varies so much, ensuring accurate data has always been a challenge, yet has played a critical role in the project’s mission to provide data to scientists like Purkey.


Left, international map of all Argo floats

Right, Argo float

The Global Ocean Ship Based Hydrographic Investigation Program, GO-SHIP, on the other hand, measures many physical and biogeochemical parameters, including temperature, from the ocean surface to the sea floor along ocean transects that grid the global ocean about once per decade. The GO-SHIP data from these hydrographic surveys can be compared over time to show the warming trend of the ocean from the surface to the deepest parts of the ocean. 


How are Argo and GO-SHIP Used?

The combination of these two systems allows scientists to better understand global warming trends more easily and accurately.  “Argo and GO-SHIP together have allowed scientists to monitor year to year variability in the total ocean heat content for decades” said Purkey. “Now our new website, Argovis, allows anyone to see this data easily through our web interface. While this data has always been public, it can be hard to access and look at for non-expert users. We hope more classrooms take advantage of the accessibility of this data, made possible through EarthCube, and students can explore ocean warming for themselves, bringing them closer to the ocean and the global implications of climate change.”


This research was funded by the National Science Foundation (grant number 2026776).

About EarthCube

EarthCube is a community-driven activity sponsored by the National Science Foundation to transform research in the academic geosciences community. EarthCube aims to create a well-connected environment to share data and knowledge in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner, thus accelerating our ability to better understand and predict the Earth’s systems. EarthCube membership is free and open to anyone in the Geosciences, as well as those building platforms to serve the Earth Sciences. The EarthCube Office is led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) on the UC San Diego campus. 


Media Contact: 

Kimberly Mann Bruch, San Diego Supercomputer Center Communications,


Membership Contact:

Lynne Schreiber, San Diego Supercomputer Center EarthCube Office,


Related Links:




San Diego Supercomputer Center:

UC San Diego:

National Science Foundation:

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