From the “send money or the instrumentation gets it” department comes news that the TAO array may already be toast due to budget constraints. One wonders if money sucked into climate programs might be a factor.
From Nature News: Nearly half of the moored buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array have failed in the last two years, crippling an early-warning system for the warming and cooling events in the eastern equatorial Pacific, known respectively as El Niño and La Niña. Scientists are now collecting data from just 40% of the array.
“It’s the most important climate phenomenon on the planet, and we have blinded ourselves to it by not maintaining this array,” says Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Seattle, Washington. McPhaden headed the TAO project before it was transferred out of NOAA’s research arm and into the agency’s National Weather Service in 2005.
The network was developed over the course of a decade following the massive El Niño of 1982‒1983. NOAA maintains some 55 buoys across the eastern and central Pacific that monitor weather conditions as well as water temperatures down to 500 metres. Working in concert, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) maintains another dozen buoys in the western tropical Pacific. Combined, the monitoring system has become a cornerstone for seasonal weather forecasting given the tropical Pacific’s influence on broader weather patterns.
Fig. 1. TAO Array in the Pacific.
Image: NOAAThe TAO array monitors conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Turquoise dots represent US buoys, while yellow dots show Japanese buoys.
An array adrift
The array’s troubles began in 2012, when budget cuts pushed NOAA to retire a ship dedicated to performing the annual servicing that keeps the TAO buoys in working order. According to McPhaden, NOAA’s annual budget for the project stood at about US$10‒$12 million before 2012 — a figure that included around $6 million to cover the dedicated ship. In fiscal year 2013, the agency spent $2‒$3 million to charter boats for maintenance runs, but McPhaden says that these operations have not been enough to keep the system going. Meanwhile, although JAMSTEC has thus far kept its portion of the array up and running, it too is under budgetary pressure.