MARVL: A Changing Tide


MARVL is a virtual Laboratory that enables researchers interested in marine modelling access to an online portal that simplifies the process of marine modelling. It allows researchers to obtain a pre-prepared package using simple workflow by combining geographic location, datasets, forcing data and processing power, all within the cloud.



  • Researchers requiring marine modeling.
  • Academics teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students.
  • Marine Managers.
  • Consultants.


  • Efficiently configure a range of different community coastal/ocean and wave models for any region, for any time period, with model specifications of their choice, through a user-friendly web application.
  • Access data sets to initialise and force a model.
  • Discover and assemble ocean observations from IMOS and AODN in a format that is suitable for model evaluation or data assimilation.
  • Helps marine scientists make better use of ocean observations to improve forecasting and planning for marine and coastal environments.

“It’s always been an aspiration of mine to bring observations and modelling together,”
– Dr Roger Proctor

The ocean is the heat store for the world’s atmosphere, the driving force behind the planet’s climate, but until recently there was no nationally coordinated effort to understand Australia’s oceans and their effect on weather patterns.

The first move toward collaboration came in 2001 with Project BLUElink, a large-scale cooperative project between the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, and the Royal Australian Navy, which was introduced to better understand Australia’s marine environment, and develop reliable ocean forecasting for maritime users.

However, BLUElink’s focus on forecasting still left marine observers in the dark, leading Dr Roger Proctor, an oceanographer based at the University of Tasmania, to establish Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS).

“There was nothing for observations,” Dr Proctor said. “Different groups ran their own programs but these were uncoordinated, it was ‘do your own thing’ basically.

To address this, IMOS was established in 2007 under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to collect observations from a variety of measuring platforms including: Argo floats, ships, tagged animals, moorings and underwater vehicles.

“There are more than 3,000 Argo floats deployed around the world’s oceans,” Dr Proctor said. “Each follows a ten day cycle, drifting along at 1000m depth for nine days, and sinking to a depth of 2,000m on the tenth day to measure the oceans temperature and salinity on its rise to the surface.”

“At the surface it relays the information via satellite to a data centre, IMOS is the second largest contributor to this international dataset.”

All IMOS data is freely and openly available through the IMOS Ocean Portal for the benefit of Australian marine and climate science, with measurements (collectively and over time) revealing trends about temperature, ocean chemical properties, and fluctuations within fish communities in various locations.

“IMOS is an excellent resource, however, the observations alone cannot create medium to long-term forecasts or predict what will happen under particular conditions – this is where models and simulations come in,” Dr Proctor said. “It’s always been an aspiration of mine to bring observations and modelling together, and the Nectar virtual laboratory program provided the infrastructure for the marine science community to do this.”

Seeing an opportunity to integrate these two elements, Dr Proctor and the IMOS team set up a virtual laboratory in collaboration with the CSIRO for observations that would also deliver modelling packages to users more easily.

“When we realised our two virtual laboratory proposals were100% complementary we decided to work together to establish MARVL, so that the modelling and observations communities would both gain from the interaction,” Dr Proctor said.

“Since we’ve been in operation, the modellers have been exposed to new ideas about how they can use our observations, and present data which is more suitable for ingestion into simulations and models,” he continued. “Stage two of MARVL resulted in the system being tested by major marine research groups throughout Australia, and offering Nectar cloud simulations under NCRIS 2013 funding.”

Ian Coghlan, a Senior Coastal Engineer at UNSWs Water Research Laboratory was one of the first researchers to benefit from using MARVL.

Running wave experiments at the Solitary Islands near Coffs Harbour in New South Wales to determine the conditions under which coastal erosion is likely to happen, Ian Coghlan was able to reduce his setup time by a factor of 40 by using the MARVL web interface.

“The wave model was a painstaking process requiring 2-3 months of significant modelling expertise, and permission from a number of different organisations to access forcing datasets,” Mr Coghlan said.

“Using MARVL drastically reduced the lead time I needed to work on my research questions, and if any changes to the initialisation of the wave model were needed, a refined model could be set up and executed promptly through the virtual laboratory.”

MARVL allows the Australian marine science community to rapidly address their research questions, rather than spending time and effort on configuring models and gaining access to data.

“It’s the first step, it’s not a black box that does absolutely everything but MARVL enables researchers to start thinking about their problem sooner, and rather than having to assemble all the information they need to get to that point,” Dr Rodger Proctor says.

“We’d like to make it faster and easier to use and would like to begin integrating biological models in addition to the physical models we now have, and that’s a whole new challenge,” he continued. “Ideally we’d like to get to the point where marine park and fisheries managers can also use it to do scenario planning.”

MARVL will also play a key role in the Australian National Shelf Reanalysis (ANSR) project, which will aim to produce a 20-year computer simulation of shelf sea regions around Australia, containing relevant observations collected by IMOS and partners in the Australian Ocean Data Network.

“Without observing and understanding how the ocean and the atmosphere interact, you have little chance of accurately predicting the weather or climate change,” Dr Proctor said. “More efficient use of ocean models and observations to improve hindcasting and planning for marine and coastal environments is so important, and MARVL provides us all with an integrated platform we can use to do just that.”

For more information about MARVL, go to,