2021 Technology Demonstration

Introducing the NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute

by Adam Soule, Ph.D., Director of the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute

The NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI) is one of 20 NOAA Cooperative Institutes, each of which is made up of academic and non-profit research institutions that demonstrate the highest level of performance and conduct research that supports NOAA's mission goals and Strategic Plan.

The OECI  began in 2019 and brings together the University of Rhode Island , the University of New Hampshire , Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution , the University of Southern Mississippi , and the Ocean Exploration Trust  in an integrated ocean exploration enterprise to accelerate exploration through the development of new ocean technologies and operational concepts, field testing and refinement of new technologies, and the application of new and existing systems and approaches to explore the vast, underexplored regions of the ocean.

The OECI partner institutions, along with NOAA Ocean Exploration, bring engineering, scientific, communication, and management expertise to bear, creating a powerful collaboration aimed at ocean exploration. Activities of the OECI, whether communicating with students or building robotic tools, are executed collaboratively to ensure that new developments and new exploration maximize the collective experience and competencies of this partnership and work towards the OECI’s three thematic goals described below:

Goal 1: Ocean Exploration Technology
As international leaders in developing and applying advanced robotics, the OECI is working to expand the agility, breadth, and efficiency of core exploration capabilities, and to expand the footprint of ocean exploration through increased and improved autonomy and collaborative robotics. To achieve this goal, the OECI will:

  • Develop and deploy leading ocean exploration and telepresence technologies and support innovation in telepresence and the demonstration of new technologies.
  • Provide state-of-the-art ocean mapping capabilities and innovations in ocean mapping tools, visualization, and techniques.
  • Increase the use of autonomous exploration vehicles, such as powered autonomous underwater vehicles and gliders, in ocean exploration operations.

Goal 2: Exploration Planning and Execution
With newly developed and proven technologies, the OECI will carry out large-scale campaigns in NOAA priority areas to map and characterize regions of the deep ocean and increase the use of multiple assets to expand the richness and range of exploration and characterization data that can be routinely acquired. To achieve this goal, the OECI will:

  • Map and characterize unexplored and underexplored areas, processes, natural features, and human-made objects in the global ocean, especially within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Conduct extramural exploration tasks, missions, and campaigns, initially from the Ocean Exploration Trust’s Exploration Vessel Nautilus, with its remotely operated vehicle exploration system, and then from other ships of opportunity.

Goal 3: Increase Utility of Ocean Exploration Information

The OECI aims to produce findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable marine data and to leverage the collection and distribution of ocean exploration data to engage the public in the excitement of ocean exploration, and to encourage the next generation of ocean explorers, scientists, and the Blue Economy workforce. To achieve this goal, the OECI will:

  • Ensure that all OECI data collected meets a high standard for quality and is equally accessible to scientists, government officials, policy makers, the public, and others.
  • Develop systems that increase the efficiency of data processing and manipulation through the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud-based computing.
  • Increase opportunities for individuals from under-represented communities to engage in ocean exploration and seek pathways to Blue Economy careers.

A DriX unmanned surface vehicle, within its docking system, is seen being fitted by engineers into the davits of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson

A DriX unmanned surface vehicle, within its docking system, is seen being fitted by engineers into the davits of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson. Photo Credit: Val Schmidt, University of New Hampshire. Download image (jpg, 3.4 MB).