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Masterminding the robots of the ocean


An Argo float is deployed from a research vessel (Picture:

By Tamaryn Morris, ASCA Coordinator, SAEON Egagasini Node

Argo floats are autonomous ‘robots’ of the ocean, collecting valuable upper-ocean physical oceanographic information - notably pressure, temperature and salinity data.

The floats are deployed from research vessels or vessels of opportunity globally and collect profiles of the upper 2000 m of water column every 10 days, resting at a park depth of 1000 m in the intervening times, and can repeat this cycle on average 150 times (Figure 1). All data collected is freely available on the Argo website.

There is an Argo Steering Team (AST) that meets every year and brings together representatives from each country working on the Argo programme. The programme has been active since 1999, with the first floats being deployed shortly thereafter.


Figure 1. Operation park profile. Source:

The initial objective of Argo, and to begin answering global upper-ocean heat and salt content questions, was to have over 3 000 active floats in the global oceans, which was achieved by the late 2000s. The Argo fleet currently numbers over 3 800 floats (Figure 2), with ~ 800 new Argo floats being deployed each year to replace those that go out of service.


Figure 2. Argo fleet. Source:

The AST plays an advisory role on Argo-related science activities - where floats should be deployed to fill gaps in the global array, the technological advances and problem areas, data management issues, Argo fleet performance, and most recently, the extension of the Argo array in understudied regions. These include regions seasonally covered by sea-ice, the equatorial regions, deep-Argo (below 2000 m water depth), Bio-Argo (the inclusion of additional sensors such as dissolved oxygen, light and fluorescence, among others), marginal seas and Western Boundary Currents such as the Agulhas Current.

South African Argo community

The South African Argo community is informally made up of a number of organisations, including the South African Weather Service (as the national focal point), SAEON, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), in addition to smaller research teams.

The SAEON Egagasini Node purchased two floats in 2009 and deployed them on the Good Hope Line en route to Antarctica. This data is currently being used for a BTech project by Jarred Voorneveld, and has been used by the node’s education officer, Thomas Mtontsi, for marine science curriculum development projects in five schools around the Western Cape. Argo data is also being used by the author for her PhD, as well as by institutes such as the Nansen Tutu Centre for operational oceanography at UCT to assimilate into ocean models and improve their ability to represent the dynamics of the oceans around South Africa.

Ideal location for float deployments

Being bordered by three oceans, South Africa is seen by international research teams as an ideal location to assist in the deployment of floats from research cruises into dynamic, under-sampled oceans. The South African Argo community additionally plays a role in education and outreach of the project at both the secondary and tertiary levels and in terms of the extension of the Argo array into the Agulhas Current by linking up with the Agulhas System Climate Array (ASCA) project.

The South African Argo community is keen to increase float procurement in our country to control Argo float deployments particularly related to process-driven research projects, i.e. Southern Ocean carbon flux work and the Agulhas Current through ASCA and future related programmes. In addition to boosting the marine science curriculum education and outreach work, the South African Argo community is working towards enhancing South Africa’s profile within the global observation community.

Further information can be found on the Argo website.


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