NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute Award Ceiling Increased to $150 Million

June 03, 2021

A timelapse video of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Orpheus being recovered from its “dunk test” on the back deck of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. Supported in part by NOAA Ocean Exploration through the OECI, during the 2021 Technology Demonstration, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tested this next generation of AUVs designed to explore the deepest parts of the ocean — the “hadal zone,” deeper than 6,000 meters (3.7 miles). Video courtesy of NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2021 Technology Demonstration. Download (mp4, 3.15 MB).

The NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute  (OECI) has received approval from NOAA to increase the amount of funding it is eligible to receive, called its award ceiling, from the original award ceiling of $94 million to $150 million over the initial five-year award period. The authorized increase creates additional capacity for new research. This means, should funding be available, the OECI could receive an additional $56 million during the award period which ends on June 30, 2024.

“The approval of this proposal creates additional capacity for the OECI up to $150 million,” said Genene Fisher, Ph.D., acting director of NOAA Ocean Exploration. “This positions this unique consortium to better advance NOAA Ocean Exploration and NOAA mission goals, while also supporting national goals to map deep waters of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone by 2030 and identify, explore, and characterize priority areas within this critical region.”

Selected through a competitive process by NOAA in 2019, the OECI brings together the University of Rhode Island, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Southern Mississippi, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the not-for-profit Ocean Exploration Trust to complement and amplify the exploratory science, technology, and education and outreach capabilities of NOAA Ocean Exploration.

The $56 million ceiling increase was authorized based on an OECI proposal outlining nine additional and innovative projects that would allow the OECI to further meet its mission of mapping and characterizing the three billion acres of submerged United States ocean territory to strengthen the United States’ Blue Economy, aid responsible resource management, and promote a greater scientific understanding of our nation’s vast underwater territory, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Newly proposed projects range from the development of new technologies for exploring seafloor mineral deposits and the use of machine learning and cloud-based tools to process large volumes of video and other data collected during exploration to technologies and operational concepts to enable efficient seafloor mapping and the development of novel approaches to water column exploration to meet the needs of fisheries science.

Also included in the OECI proposal is a project to train a new generation of ocean explorers, including traditionally underrepresented groups, through at-sea experiences for undergraduate students and opportunities for post-graduate students interested in ocean exploration technology development and application.

“The OECI brings together incredible expertise in ocean exploration and research and enables us to work collaboratively to maximize the pace and outcomes of ocean exploration,” said Adam Soule, Ph.D., OECI Director. “We are thrilled that this ceiling increase enables the expansion of our exciting projects and opens new doors for additional collaborations with NOAA.”

This announcement comes in the OECI’s second year of operation. It closely coincides with the hiring by NOAA Ocean Exploration of Aurora C. Elmore, Ph.D., as the Cooperative Institute Manager; in this role, Dr. Elmore serves as the liaison between NOAA Ocean Exploration and all OECI partners, strengthening collaborations and ensuring that OECI activities align with the NOAA mission. Additionally, the OECI recently participated in the NOAA Ocean Exploration-led 2021 Technology Demonstration on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, which marked the first OECI expedition on a NOAA vessel.