Issue 15.1: February / March 2012

Oceania Brittanica

Story by Dawn Southard

Photo by Matt Mallams


“Would you like to see what Kermit’s been doing?” asks Chris Ostrander, director of the Pacific Island Ocean Observing System, whose web site has become a “onestop shop” for all sorts of ocean information since it launched in 2009.


Kermit is an endangered Hawaiian monk seal who spends most of his time in the main Hawaiian Islands. He’s well known to beachgoers and biologists, and he’s been fitted with a satellite transponder that tells scientists where he is and what he’s doing. To Ostrander, that makes Kermit a good example of what PacIOOS can offer. He pulls up a map of Hawai‘i and launches an animation of Kermit’s movements over the past week, a series of dots moving across the screen. Click on one and you’ll see how long and how deep Kermit dived.


While that might be catnip for biologists, PacIOOS offers much more. Users can add layers of real-time information to a map of their area: water temperature, nautical charts, shipping routes, surface conditions, tides, wind, bathymetry, etc. Ship captains can plot courses to avoid rough patches. Surfers can locate the best waves. Anglers can target potential fishing grounds.


PacIOOS is a partnership among the University of Hawai‘i School of Earth Science and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Hawai‘i’s state counties. It’s part of the larger national Integrated Ocean Observing System, which assembles information from a variety of sources—satellites, buoys, weather stations, NOAA and other databases— and organizes it so that anyone can use it.


It’s free, and you don’t have to be a scientist or a salt to take advantage of it; even a family looking to spend a day at the beach can check in advance for box jellyfish, poor water quality, high-surf advisories, even what’s coming out of the Ala Wai Canal and where it’s going. A stand up paddler can assess wind conditions in Kane‘ohe Bay. A boater can pull up a nautical chart to navigate the patch reefs off Kahalu‘u.


Or a seal-watcher might just want to see what Kermit’s up to.