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Ocean Research and the Grand Challenge of Global Change



Oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface and play a vital role in the biosphere. From biodiversity, to carbon storage, to primary production and half of the oxygen we breathe, the oceans regulate and sustain life on the planet. Today, the world’s seas, including the Red Sea, face an array of pressures from fishing, shipping, oil exploration, desalination, increasing population, terrestrial run-off, plastic waste and climatic changes. In 2016, Saudi Arabia released a Vision 2030 document, emphasizing the safeguarding of the environment to its future development and prosperity.


Research Strategy

Within the context of global change, blue growth and coastal development trends globally, the sustainable development priority of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and the food-water-energy–environment nexus mission at KAUST, the IOP has developed an Ocean Observatory with a corresponding and evolving research strategy. The three pillars of the Ocean Observatory are:


1.     Integrated Marine Ecological Assessment;

2.     Operational Oceanography;

3.     Spatial Analysis, E-infrastructure and Data Accessibility


Find out more about specific research efforts in the sections below.

Current Research

Our operational oceanography research and modelling effort is envisioned as an integrated observing, modeling and data management system. The system will provide tools for observing the processes within the Red Sea, understanding the interactions between processes, and providing resources that facilitate managing uses of the sea. 
The marine ecological effort of the project aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Red Sea ecosystem by intergrating information of different biological components (e.g. bacteria phytoplankton, benthic invertebrates, cryptic organisms, and fish) both at the pelagic and benthic domains gathered under real environmental conditions.
This project aims to review and study observational and modelling methods for quantifying and monitoring the dynamics and distribution of bio-optical properties and their relation to biogeochemical variables and processes in the Red Sea using in situ, simulated, and ocean colour satellite data. Understanding the bio-physical and biogeochemical processes will provide the critical data needed to predict changes in marine ecosystem functioning under climate change.  ​​
By characterizing the regional oceanography, we are seeking an improved understanding of the processes which may be motivating the spring whale shark aggregation in Al-Lith, Saudi Arabia. ​
The primary objective of the present study is to provide a holistic understanding of the nutrient fluxes and limitations thereof in the Red Sea. In particular, we investigate how nutrient fluxes influence plankton diversity and the trophodynamics of the pelagic food web and how they relate to physical-oceanographic features such as eddies, eddy-induced upwelling, and the inflow of water masses from the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.​
Our goal is to understand the variability, persistence and biochemisty of eddies that occur in the north-central Red Sea. To accomplish this, we will integrate observations from remote sensing with in situ data from gliders and ship-based hydrographic and bio-optical observations. ​
Developing and deploying smart technology like marine robotics enables a new breadth and depth of knowledge regarding our marine seas. At KAUST, we aim to drive large scale marine robotic testing to revolutionise ocean forecasting.​
An integrating framework for Red Sea research at KAUST will be through the conception of a Red Sea biogeographic information system coupled with a marine geographical information system (GIS) capability. This system will achrive data, make it available for future analyses and enable generation of visual, statistical and data management products.​​
The vision of this ten-year effort is a long-term scientific understanding of the Red Sea and its ecosystem for the benefit of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the World. More specifically, the Saudi Aramco-KAUST Center for Marine Environmental Observations works alongside KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center to develop an integrated understanding of Red Sea ecosystem, to provide assessments of the present state of the coastal community and determine trends in the ecosystem over time to evaluate the comparative roles of natural and anthropogenic processes in these changes. The Center will develop tools that facilitate these evaluations and contribute to management decisions by Aramco and other marine industries. The Center will also provide training for young Saudi scientists in the area of marine science and technology.