Building the Ultimate Record of the Ocean

Carl Wunsch continues to expand his foundational framework for understanding the behavior of worldwide oceans as a whole.

Before the advent of modern observational and modeling techniques, understanding how the ocean behaved required piecing together disparate data — often separated by decades in time — from a handful of sources around the world. In the 1980s, that started to change when technological advancements, such as satellites, floats, drifters, and chemical tracers, made continuous, mass measurements possible.

Still, the resulting new datasets often existed independently of each other, obscuring the big picture of how the ocean circulates, transfers heat, affects climate, stores carbon, and more. That's why Carl Wunsch, professor emeritus of physical oceanography in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and member of the EAPS Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate (PAOC), started spearheading an endeavor to reveal that big picture nearly 20 years ago.

Following on the heels of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), Wunsch founded a consortium that sought to combine global ocean datasets with state-of-the-art circulation models.

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