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Over the past 50 years, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has significantly influenced the direction and advancement of ocean science by using its unique position to encourage synthesis and integration across diverse activities and disciplines. International oceanographic programs focused on marine ecosystems, ecology, and living resources (Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics project), ocean carbon (International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project), and harmful algal blooms (Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms program) are used to illustrate IOC's role in synthesis activities. Results of these projects, including fundamental changes in how the marine science community approaches measurement protocols, data availability, and data sharing, along with IOC publications and periodic assessments of the status of ocean science enabled synthesis activities that engaged the wider community and extended across disciplines. Ensuring informed development and application of marine science and technology is an important role for IOC as issues related to climate change, resource extraction, and the use of the marine environment become more pressing and the need for informed ocean management increases.