Oceanography and marine ecology have a considerable history in the use of computers for modeling both physical and ecological processes. With increasing stress on the marine environment due to human activities such as fisheries and numerous forms of pollution, analysis of marine problems has increasingly to jointly consider physical, ecological and socio-economic aspects in a broader systems framework that transcends more traditional disciplinary boundaries. This often introduces difficult to quantify, ``soft'' elements such as values and perceptions into formal analysis.
Thus the problem domain combines a solid foundation in the physical sciences, with strong elements of ecological, socio-economic and political considerations. At the same time the domain is also characterized by both a very large volume of some data, and an extremely data poor situation for other variables, as well as a very high degree of uncertainty, partly due to the temporal and spatial heterogeneity of the marine environment.
Consequently, marine systems analysis and management requires tools that can integrate these diverse aspects into efficient information systems that can support both research as well as planning and policy and decision making processes.
Supporting scientific research, as well as decision making processes and the diverse groups and actors involved, requires better access and direct understanding of the information basis as well as easy-to-use, but powerful tools for analysis.
Advanced information technology provides the tools to design and implement smart software where, in a broad sense, the emphasis is on the man--machine interface. Symbolic and analog, graphical interaction, visual problem representation, integrated data sources and built-in domain knowledge can effectively support users of complex and complicated software systems. Integration, interaction, visualization and intelligence are key concepts that are discussed in detail, using an operational software example of a coastal water quality model. The model integrates components of a geographical information and mapping system, data bases, dynamic simulation models, and an integrated expert system. An interactive graphical user interface, dynamic visualization of model results, and a hypertext based help and explain system illustrate some of the features of new and powerful software tools for marine systems analysis and modeling.