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The challenge

Marine users need information about ocean conditions so they can work safely, efficiently and without harming the environment.

Understanding and predicting ocean conditions is essential for those working in the marine environment. The constantly changing nature of the ocean brings considerable risk and uncertainty to marine industries and operators, such as fisheries, maritime transport and the Navy. To ensure their safety and enable them to complete their operations effectively and with minimal risk to the environment, these industries need to understand the environmental conditions at and below the ocean surface.

The ocean, however, is complex, difficult to predict and very large. These factors make getting reliable information about current and future ocean conditions a challenge.

Our response

Ocean forecasts to guide operations and improve maritime safety

[Music plays and images move through of a boat circumnavigating a lighthouse on a rock in the ocean and then text appears: Climate Science Centre, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, How can science improve ocean operations and navigation?]

[Image changes to show yachts on the water and then the image changes to show two people in wetsuits walking in the water with a boat in the background]

[Images move through of Navy personnel looking through binoculars, a Navy ship, Amy Bulters talking to the camera, Navy personnel in a control room, Amy talking, and a Navy ship and text appears: LCDR Amy Bulters, Plans Officer, Maritime Geospatial Warfare Unit]

For us in the Royal Australian Navy, the ocean from the surface through to the sea bed is our operating space and therefore understanding how to move through it safely and silently is critical to our operations.

[Images move through of a photograph of the Bluelink team in a news article, Amy talking to the camera, Argo floats, an animation of the satellite cycle, a lab technician, and Amy talking to camera.]

So, when the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology approached the Navy in 2003 with the idea of developing an ocean forecasting capability based on the emergence of Argo floats, satellite technology and super computers, Navy was definitely keen to jump on board.

[Images move through to show a female and two males looking at a weather map on a Smart screen, and then a Navy officer communicating through a headset and operating a computer]

The Bluelink partnership that was formed has become an integral input into the operational decision making of the Navy to this day.

[Images move through to show technicians working on an Argo float, Peter Oke talking, graphs on a computer screen, an Argo float being deployed, a male working on a computer and text appears: Dr Peter Oke, Bluelink Project Leader, CSIRO]

Dr Peter Oke: Argo floats such as these are deployed throughout the world’s oceans to measure oceanographic data including temperature and salinity, from the surface to 2000 metres depth, primarily to underpin climate research.

[Images move through to show Peter talking to the camera, an aerial view of a ship at dock, a rear view of Peter and colleague looking at a computer, and then two females looking at a computer]

Oceanographers like myself, at CSIRO, recognise that these readings could provide a foundation for ocean forecasting if we could combine this information with satellite data and weather forecasts.

[Images move through to show Jessica Sweeney talking to camera, a satellite map on a computer, Jessica talking to camera, and an Argo float being deployed and text appears: Jessica Sweeney, Ocean Analyst, Bureau of Meteorology]

Jessica Sweeney: CSIRO, as part of the Bluelink partnership, played the lead role in developing Australia’s first anti resolving ocean model and the ocean data simulation scheme which ingests real time satellite and in situ data such as Argo floats.

[Images move through to show rear view of female colleagues viewing various weather maps on a computer screen and then Jessica talking to camera]

Float systems underpin ocean maps which we run operationally here at the Bureau and form the basis for our seven day forecasts for the Australian public, the Military and Maritime Safety.

[Images move through to show an animation image of a whale beneath the sea and a boat on the surface with adjacent sound wave diagrams next to them]

Amy Bulters: The way that sound travels in water is different to how it travels in air.

[Camera zooms in on the whale and the sound waves next to the whale and then the map behind displays different coloured bars for different water temperatures]

The speed of the sound and the refraction of the sound is influenced by changes in water temperature and salinity.

[Images move through to show an animation of an Argo float on the left with arrows showing its movement across the water and a sound speed chart and boat silhouette appear on the right]

Understanding how sound travels through water enables us to best utilise our sonars to determine where other vessels might be.

[Images move through to show man leaning over ship taking measurements, colleagues looking at a map on a Smart screen, and a close-up of the map]

Through the Bluelink project CSIRO’s ocean forecasting capability delivers the mapping we need to do this.

[Images move through to show Peter talking to the camera, and then Peter and a colleague working on a computer screen displaying a selection being made on a map]

Dr Peter Oke: In order to provide that detail to the Navy for any part of the world’s oceans, we developed a system that allows a user to initiate the forecast of the ocean or atmosphere anywhere in the world for anytime.

[Images changes to show Peter talking to the camera and then camera zooms on computer screen with an area of land and ocean being selected]

This system is called ROAM, the Relocatable Ocean Atmosphere Model.

[Images move through to show Navy officer operating computer, a sea surface temperature map, a Navy officer operating a periscope, and Navy personnel discussing findings]

Amy Bulters: Once we know where we want our vessels to go we can use ROAM to nominate a specific area of the ocean where we need finer detail to determine what ocean conditions we can expect.

[Images move through to show Peter talking to the camera, an Argo float being deployed, and Peter talking to the camera]

Dr Peter Oke: Through our use of massive super computing to keep our ocean models up to date, as well as our ongoing management of Australia’s Argo float deployments, my team in conjunction with the operational expertise of the Bureau of Meteorology continue to deliver a state of the art ocean forecasting system.

[Images move through to show an Argo float storage area, a rear view of Peter and colleague viewing a map on a computer, a fleet of ships on the ocean, and Amy talking to the camera]

Amy Bulters: The Bluelink team at CSIRO has developed and maintained a wonderfully powerful, predictive tool which ensures the safety of our Navy vessels at sea and delivers a tactical advantage to us in observing other nation’s navies whilst avoiding counter detection ourselves.

[Music plays and text appears on a blue screen: Interviewees, LCDR Amy Bulters – Royal Australian Navy, Dr Peter Oke – CSIRO, Oceans and Atmosphere, Jessica Sweeney – Bureau of Meteorology]

[Text appears: Additional Footage Supplied by: JCOMMOPS, Royal Australian Navy, Bureau of Meteorology, Pennicot Wilderness Journeys]

[Text appears: For more info]

[CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO Australia’s innovation catalyst]

Accurate ocean forecasts are crucial for decision-making in marine industries and Defence applications. The CSIRO Bluelink team develops these ocean forecasting capabilities together with Bluelink partners.

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Improvements in the power of super-computers, ocean models and ocean observations presented an opportunity to address this challenge. By drawing these tools together, we worked with our partners to build a system that could provide a comprehensive estimate of the current ocean conditions, as well as predict those conditions into the future.

Bluelink produces a comprehensive suite of ocean forecasts. It is used by maritime industries to predict marine scenarios ranging from local beach conditions to regional currents and waves, and oceanic circulation on a global scale.

Bluelink predictions are high in accuracy, which is a result of access to a range of data. It uses ocean observations from the sea (via moored sensors, ships, robotic gliders and Argo floats) and from space (via satellite). These datasets are processed and interpreted to create accurate, near-real time models and forecasts. For more detailed technical information about Bluelink science go to

With Bluelink partners, CSIRO provides scientific services, delivered via:

Animation of daily Sea Surface Temperature from BRAN v2.1 in the greater Australasian region from July 1997 to October 2000. The trains of purple chevrons indicate the position (on 5 successive days) of surface drifters that are drogued so that their motion is dominated by surface current rather than wind.

Bluelink ocean simulation showing currents and surface temperatures around Australia over a period of three and a half years from December 1997 to June 2001, compared to data from surface drifters (the magenta arrow heads).

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Research on BRAN conducted together with the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) underpins the Bluelink global Ocean Model Analysis and Prediction System (OceanMAPS). OceanMAPS is the BoM operational ocean forecasting system that delivers 7-day forecasts of the global ocean conditions accessible to all Australians.

The results

A new capability for all marine users

Ocean forecasting adds a predictive tool to Australia’s already sophisticated meteorological capabilities.

Bluelink also provides the Australian Navy with a tactical advantage. Detailed information about current and future conditions in the ocean helps to guide activities at sea and near shore. This information is shared with marine planners, and maritime industry and safety authorities.

The Bluelink partnership is creating economic and social benefits on a broad scale across government, science, industry, business and the community.
Bluelink forecasts are available to all marine users, including:

  • the Royal Australian Navy (RAN)
  • maritime transport providers
  • the fishing industry
  • tourism operators
  • marine managers.


Australia’s Defence tactical operations rely on Bluelink’s critical capability for situational awareness in decision-making and operational exercises; helping to locate and map historical shipwrecks and hazardous areas; and search and rescue efforts.


The search for the Malaysian aircraft MH370 used Bluelink predictions. Bluelink models were also integral to narrowing down the seafloor search area in the Indian Ocean.

Oil and gas

The oil and gas industry use our ocean forecasts to assist with structural design and operational safety, as well as minimising down-time and management of oil spills. Tracking the Montara oil spill off Western Australia in 2009 is one example.


Fisheries managers use Bluelink information to determine how changes in ocean conditions (currents, water temperature and salinity) influence fisheries resources. This includes the Western rock lobster, Eastern tuna and Billfish.

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