A Review of Some Software Tools for Synthesizing, Understanding and Presenting Oceanographic...

A Review of Some Software Tools for Synthesizing, Understanding and Presenting Oceanographic Processes: Is there a Functional Oceanic GIS?


Sayedur Rahman Chowdhury
Associate Professor
Institute of Marine Sciences,
Email: [email protected]

M. Zakir Hossain
PhD Fellow
Integrated Tropical Coastal Zone Management
Asian Institute of Technology
Email: [email protected]

Use of geoinformation data and toolsets has become a smart practice in decision making for coastal and marine applications. Geographic Information Systems provide support in many areas of marine and coastal applications. These include, for example, applications in coastline, bathymetry, benthic terrain, marine geology and geophysics, geomorphodynamics, submerged aquatic vegetation, habitat mapping, ecology, coastal zone management, marine protected areas, marine cadastre, animal tracking, oil spills, navigational charting, mapping of oceanic variables and surface water classification; identification and measurement of gyres, upwelling events, temperature, and chlorophyll among numerous others. The momentum that GIS has picked up in marine and coastal application fields is reflected by the evolution of the ‘Marine GIS’ domain and the emergence of a lot of appropriate tools supplemented by enhancements in large and commercial GIS suites. However, the inherent 3 dimensional nature of the ocean and its many processes associated with the temporal dimension of these variables make it complicated for a traditional GIS to store, analyze and visualize them properly. Many marine data are inherently spatial in nature and is a strong candidate for being analyzed within geographic information systems. Utilization of the satellite technology to synoptic oceanographic observations, satellite communication with ocean profiling buoys and profilers, use of GPS technology to locate and track them creates a need to couple geoinformation technology to oceanic research. Oceanographers, however, tend to use technical computing tools such as MATLAB, GMT, IDL, R or tailor-made tools like Ocean Data Viewer (ODV), Integrated Data Viewer (IDV) etc. for synthesizing and visualizing oceanic data because of the apparent lacking of appropriate tools in conventional GIS suites. Learning curves for many of these oceanic tools are very steep and they are immensely disparate in their capabilities, application areas, and maturity. Moreover, many ocean features and processes are closely linked with atmospheric phenomena which GISystems apparently have not paid adequate attention to. Several technical computing software, special purpose oceanic data processing tools, and frequently used commercial GIS and image processing suites have been tested to synthesize, analyze and visualize oceanic-climatic data of the Bay of Bengal derived from several sources. These software tools and suites have been reviewed and evaluated as potential ‘Oceanic GIS’ components. Their integration potentials were, however, seemed to be less promising and a need for an integrated oceanic GIS platform with relatively gentle learning curve was felt urgent.
Keywords: Ocean Geoinformatics, Oceanographic processes, oceanographic software, ‘Oceanic GIS’