World Ocean Circulation Experiment

The World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) was a component of the international World Climate Research Program, and aimed to establish the role of the World Ocean in the Earth's climate system. WOCE's field phase ran between 1990 and 1998, and was followed by an analysis and modeling phase that ran until 2002.[1] When the WOCE was conceived, there were three main motivations for its creation. The first of these is the inadequate coverage of the World Ocean, specifically in the Southern Hemisphere. Data was also much more sparse during the winter months than the summer months, and there was—and still to some extent—a critical need for data covering all seasons. Secondly, the data that did exist was not initially collected for studying ocean circulation and was not well suited for model comparison. Lastly, there were concerns involving the accuracy and reliability of some measurements. The WOCE was meant to address these problems by providing new data collected in ways designed to “meet the needs of global circulation models for climate prediction.” [2]


Two major goals were set for the campaign.[1]

1. Develop ocean models that can be used in climate models and collect the data necessary for testing them. Specifically, understand:

In order to achieve Goal 1, the WCRP outlined and established Core Projects that would receive priority. The first of these was the “Global Description” project, which was meant to obtain data on the circulation of heat, fresh water and chemicals, as well as the statistics of eddies. The second project—“Southern Ocean”—placed particular emphasis on studying the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Southern Ocean’s interaction with the World Ocean. The third and final Core Project serving goal one was the “Gyre Dynamics Experiment.” The second and third of these focuses are designed specifically to address the ocean’s role in decadal climate changes. Initial planning of the WOCE states that achievement of Goal 1 would involve “strong interaction between modeling and field activities,” which are described further below.

2. Find the representativeness of the dataset for long-term behavior and find methods for determining long-term changes in ocean currents. Specifically:


Models in WOCE were used for both experimental design and data analysis. Models with use of data can incorporate various properties, including thermal wind balance, maintenance of the barotropic vorticity budget, and conservation of heat, fresh water, or mass. Measurements useful for these parameters are heat, fresh water or tracer concentration; current, surface fluxes of heat and fresh water; sea surface elevation.[3]

Both inverse modeling and data assimilation were employed during WOCE. Inverse modeling is the fitting of data using a numerical least squares or maximum likelihood fitting procedure. The data assimilation technique requires data to be compared with an initial integration of a model. The model is then progressed in time using new data and repeating the process.[3]

The success of these methods requires sufficient data to fully constrain the model, hence the need for a comprehensive field program.

Field Program

Goals for the WOCE Field Program were as follows.[1]

Major elements of the WOCE Field Program [3]

Resulting Conclusions

This list, though not comprehensive, outlines a sampling of the most highly cited papers resulting from the WOCE.

   A. Ganachaud & C. Wunsch
   Nature, November 2000
   D. Stammer, C. Wunsch, R. Giering, C. Eckert, P. Heimbach, J. Marotzke, A. Adcroft, C. N. Hill, J. Marshall
   Journal of Geophysical Research, January 2003
   A. Ganachaud
   Journal of Geophysical Research, July 2003
   A. Ganachaud, Carl Wunsch
   Global Biogeochemical Cycles, October 2002
   S. E. Wijffels, J. M. Toole, R. Davis
   Journal of Geophysical Research, September 2012

See also


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