Oceanographic activities

Observing ocean and fresh water physical, chemical and biological conditions (e.g. tides, ocean currents, pH, salinity, temperature, ocean colour, phytoplankton, etc.) is critical for understanding Canada's oceans and waterways and generating models to assist in responding to emergencies (oil spills) and in evaluating the status of ecosystems.



Ocean data on a range of physical, chemical and biological features (e.g. tides, ocean currents, pH, salinity, temperature, ocean colour, phytoplankton, etc.) are acquired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as part of zonal research and monitoring initiatives in Canada's three oceans. Ocean observations form the backbone of our understanding the state of the oceans and how they are changing over time. Observational data are also critical for developing predictive ocean models.

Data management

Data Management

Fisheries and Oceans Canada provides for the management of data collected through Departmental regional and zonal programs and from foreign sources. Data are assembled, processed and disseminated through Science and Data Centres operating in all regions.

The Integrated Science Data Management (ISDM) Directorate (National Capital Region) maintains archives of in-situ physical, chemical, and biological properties, coordinates national data management activities through DFO's National Science Data Management Committee and acts as the focal point for international cooperation in data management.

Ease of access to ocean data, both historical and recent, is essential for determining status and trends in biological and physical environments as well as for providing timely in-situ inputs and validation to modelling and forecasting activities. For reasons of public trust and to preserve the results of public investment in science, data management of this magnitude falls under the purview of government. DFO is the primary public source of ocean observations collected by Canadians.

Modelling (Operational Oceanography)

Modelling (Operational Oceanography)

Ocean models are computer-generated. They represent an ocean, or a region within an ocean, in three dimensions and depict its evolution over time. Models are based on ocean observations collected by earth observation satellites and direct measurement of conditions such as temperature, salinity, currents and wave heights.

Since the atmosphere also influences the state of the ocean, models also include atmospheric data including wind stress, precipitation, evaporation, and cloud coverage. Modellers call this "atmospheric forcing".

There is increasing recognition that accurate ocean forecast models need to be "coupled models" that couple or incorporate information on atmospheric, ice, and ocean conditions. Based on this coupled information, the model can be run to predict various aspects of ocean conditions which can then be used for operational oceanography, emergency preparedness planning, and to determine health of the oceans.

A few of the Modelling programs at DFO...


Canadian Operational Network of Coupled Environmental Prediction Systems (CONCEPTS): CONCEPTS is an initiative to establish an operational Canadian-global atmosphere-ocean-ice assimilation and modelling system. It aims to take advantage of improvements in ocean models and new near real time global oceanographic data sets in order to produce new ocean products and improve weather predictions and seasonal to inter-annual climate forecasts.

Centre for Ocean Model Development for Applications (COMDA): COMDA's goals include the development of a common set of modelling tools that can be shared and built upon over time and an increased availability of information and forecasts for ocean currents, temperature, salinity, sea levels, and other variables. COMDA's models have many practical applications including ship routing, search and rescue, oil spill response, habitat assessment and ecosystem management

Storm Surge Preparedness: DFO scientists use models to make predictions about the potential impacts that a storm surge may have on coastal communities/cities. This modelling helps inform public policy regarding procedures for storm surge preparedness.


Atlantic Tsunami Modelling: DFO scientists in the Atlantic region are working on models that simulate the propagation of a tsunami wave in real time. These models enable DFO and emergency preparedness managers to better understand how tsunamis will move across oceans and thereby enable Canadians to be better prepared for emergency response.

Canada-Newfoundland Operational Ocean Forecasting System (C-NOOFS)- C-NOOFS is a COMDA pilot project that aims to develop a regional ocean forecasting system for the North West Atlantic waters. By using a combination of satellite based ocean data and data gathered by equipping diving animals with sensors that measure ocean salinity and temperature C-NOOFS hopes to be able to provide the best available ocean analysis.

Ocean Waves: Meteorological buoys continuously monitor waves and winds so that DFO scientists can establish a reliable wave climate and improve daily wave forecasting produced by the weather office of Environment Canada.

Pacific Tsunami Modelling: On the Pacific Coast, DFO scientists are working on models of large tsunamis generated by Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes. These models enable DFO and emergency preparedness managers to better understand how tsunamis will move across oceans and thereby enable Canadians to be better prepared for emergency response.

St. Lawrence Operational Oceanography: DFO scientists use several different types models, such as surface currents, sea ice concentrations, fresh water run-off, etc, to inform ships of oceanographic conditions in the St. Lawrence. As one of the major transport routes for Eastern Canada, these models play an important role in fulfilling DFO's mandate of ensuring that users of the St. Lawrence have access to a safe and secure waterway.

DFO works closely with a range of partners to deliver the best forecasts of accurate and current ocean conditions.

DFO scientists working on Ocean Modelling can be found here.



Many of DFO's advisory reports can be found here.

Ocean Sciences at DFO generates advice for both Canadian and international decision makers:

Emergency preparedness: Coastal communities and infrastructure are frequently at risk due to storm surges and less frequently to tsunamis (click here to read about the Newfoundland tsunami of 1929). Forecasting these natural hazard events is vital to the mitigation of the damage (loss life, property and environment) they may cause. Vast areas of the Quebec shores in the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Canada are at risk to storm surge events. As recently as January 2010, the combination of high astronomical tides and storm surge resulted in coastal flooding and infrastructure destruction along the Atlantic shoreline. This advice is provided to decision makers in emergency measure organizations ranging from Public Safety Canada to municipalities to Environment Canada, etc.

Operational oceanography: Real-time operations for at-sea search and rescue, navigation purposes, effective and efficient offshore industry operations (e.g. offshore oil and gas, fishing fleets) etc. require ocean weather forecasting advice. Operational oceanography forecasts are generated through the analysis and predictions of ocean currents, ocean temperatures, ocean salt content, as well as ocean waves. This information is provided to a variety of organizations, including the Canadian Coast guard and fishery fleet managers and is used for tracking and aiding navigation of maritime vessels.

Health of the Oceans: With global climate change, it is increasingly important to monitor the state of the health of Canada's oeans so as to be able to detect changes in marine ecosystems. With this early detection information, policy and decision makers are able to respond and adapt more quickly to these changes.

The Ocean Forecasting program provides data and forecasts on physical, chemical and biological features to enable identification of ocean health, status and trends features (e.g. phytoplankton blooms, displacement of currents and ocean front systems, changes in ocean pH, salinity and temperatures). This advice on ocean health is invaluable in ocean management activities such as designing and managing Marine Protected Areas; in habitat management decisions; as well as in fisheries resource management decisions; and many more.

Provision of International Advice: Oceanography at DFO contributes to global ocean policy by providing advice to different international organizations including:

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