Credit: SPC technical and geodetic surveying team at the Majuro
tide gauge station in the Marshall Islands (RMI)
By External Source
Sep 29 2020 (IPS-Partners)
As the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO)
reported earlier this year, COVID-19 has caused massive
disruptions to ocean observing systems around the globe, as
research cruises, maintenance visits, and sensor deployments have
been postponed or cancelled.
According to IOC-UNESCO, “COVID-19 created an ocean
data blindspot that could disrupt weather forecasts and hamper our
understanding of climate change.”
When borders closed around the Pacific in March as part of
COVID-19 restrictions, it provided an opportunity to test the
agility of the infrastructure maintenance program supporting 13
permanent sea level observation stations across the Pacific.
These stations form the backbone of one of the world’s most
important ocean-monitoring networks. They provide an indispensable
record and near-real time data for meteorological agencies,
emergency services, shipping operators, and all coastal communities
concerned with the rate of sea-level rise and climate change.
Pacific sea level monitoring
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) manages the tide
gauges in partnership with the Pacific Community (SPC) and
Geoscience Australia (GA) through the Pacific Sea Level and
Geodetic Monitoring (PSLGM) project. As one of the region’s
oldest continuing aid investments, this project has provided
continuous, high-quality climate, sea-level, and land movement data
since 1991, and currently operates under the Climate and Oceans
Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac).
Pre-COVID-19, technicians from BOM, SPC, or GA would travel
monthly throughout the region to undertake maintenance,
calibration, or levelling of each sea-level monitoring site and
attend to any emergency issues that might arise.
But COVID-19 has accelerated a process already underway to build
in-country capacity to maintain and troubleshoot these sites.
Following are a few success stories that have emerged from the
project over the last six months.
6-monthly infrastructure maintenance
SPC team members have trained in-country technicians to conduct
routine maintenance of the sea level monitoring stations over the
last two years.
“The maintenance of this essential measurement equipment is a
crucial component for the continuity of quality data collection,”
said Adrien Laurenceau-Moineau, the Technical Team Leader at
SPC’s Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division.
Once trained, technical staff of the Meteorological Office and
Lands and Survey Department conduct this basic maintenance every
six months, following a purpose-designed checklist. Sea-level
observing stations and sensors are cleaned and any damage or
deterioration are noted and reported to SPC and BoM.
Fiji Met Service technician, Amori Nabanivalu, at the Lautoka
tide gauge station, Fiji.
Since March, maintenance has been completed at ten sites in the
Cook Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Federated States of
Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and
In August 2020, the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) technical
team worked alongside SPC to perform the 6-monthly maintenance
check at the sea-level observing station at the Queen’s wharf in
FMS technician, Amori Nabanivalu said, “the tide gauge station
provides valuable data for the work we do at FMS and it was a great
opportunity to work with the SPC team to better understand the
maintenance of the equipment and the processes involved.”
Return to Service
When Tropical Cyclone Harold struck Tonga in April 2020, the old
tide gauge on the Queen Salote wharf in Nuku’alofa was damaged by
waves. At the new station on Vuna Wharf, waves washed away the
gravel protecting the station conduits and the station was off-line
due to a power and communication failures.
The technical team in Tonga repaired the tide gauge station
conduits at Vuna Wharf, Nuku’alofa, damaged during TC Harold in
The in-country teams took the lead to implement established
Return to Service procedures set up under the project.
Viliami Folau of Tonga’s Land and Survey Department conducted
a site visit and provided BoM with pictures, updating the status of
both tide stations in Nuku’alofa.
“Post-disaster assessment of the tide gauges is critical. It
documents damages, if any, to the infrastructure and ensures the
quick return to service of this important source of real-time data
collection,” he noted.
Tonga Meteorological Service technician, Enisi Maea, was
assisted remotely by BoM to investigate and identify the fault
causing the system to go offline. In partnership with Tonga Power
and the Ports Authority, Enisi was able to resolve the issue and
bring the station back online.
Similarly, Solomon Islands Met Service technical officer,
Barnabas Tahoo, took the lead in getting the Honiara tide gauge
station back online. Contractors had removed the main power to the
station for a wharf extension project back in March when the
contractors were suddenly required to return to Australia due to
the COVID-19 lockdown.
Barnabas worked with BoM to troubleshoot a solution and was able
to install a temporary power extension from a nearby shed until the
permanent main can be restored.
Inspecting the upgrade work conducted at the Port Vila tide
Inspite of COVID-19 challenges, planned upgrades to a number of
stations have been able to go ahead as planned with remote support
In Port Vila and Rarotonga a dual radar sensor platform was
installed by local contractors with assistance from the Vanuatu
Meteorological Service and the Cook Islands Meteorological service
with remote oversight from BoM. The new platform will provide the
stations with an additional sensor to monitor the sea level as well
as a GNSS receiver antenna.
Likewise, the Suva and Lautoka stations in Fiji were refurbished
and a dual sea level radar sensor mount was installed by local
contractors and SPC supervision.
Remote capacity building
While the situation presents many challenges, Jeff Aquilina, the
PSLGM Team Leader at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has
embraced the shift to remote support for the project where
feasible. He notes, “This infrastructure maintenance work is
building a stronger relationship between us and the technical staff
of the Pacific Island countries, building equipment knowledge,
technical capacity and a sense of ownership of the tide station in
“This is a positive outcome of the investment in training,
mentoring, in-country visits and the establishment of strong
networks in the Pacific,” adds Jeff. “At the end of the day,
the aim is to ensure the stations are fully operational, recording
“This really drives home the importance of investing in local
capacity building,” says Molly Powers-Tora, COSPPac Coordinator
and Team Leader for Ocean Intelligence at SPC. “And the fact that
overworked national staff are committed to the upkeep of these
stations is a reflection of just how valuable this data is to the
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