Dec. 18, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Research Campaign to Advance Understanding of Gulf of Mexico Loop Current Moves Forward By Awarding $10.3 Million in Initial Grants

WASHINGTON – Following recommendations from a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report released earlier this year, the National Academies’ Gulf Research Program (GRP) is developing a long-term research campaign to improve understanding and prediction of the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current System (LCS). In support of this effort, the GRP today announced $10.3 million in grant awards for eight new projects to conduct studies and collect data and observations that will inform the planning and launching of the long-term research campaign.

The LCS is the dominant ocean circulation feature in the Gulf of Mexico. It influences all types of ocean processes and has implications for a wide range of human and natural systems, including oil and gas operations, storm and hurricane intensity, coastal ecosystems, and industries such as fishing and tourism. However, despite its far-reaching impacts, knowledge about the underlying dynamics that control the behavior of the LCS is limited.

“The campaign being planned is a major undertaking. Scientists have been trying to get a handle on the Loop Current for decades, and they’ve made great progress, but there’s never been a long-term, comprehensive, internationally and multi-institutionally coordinated effort,” said Kelly Oskvig, program officer for the GRP.

The National Academies report Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current: Gaps and Recommendations identified existing knowledge gaps about the LCS and called for a long-term research campaign to help improve understanding and prediction of the LCS. The report outlined a series of recommendations for near-term and long-term activities needed for a campaign that is expected to take around 10-12 years and require collaborations among many different groups and funders. The GRP recently formed a standing committee of external experts to advise on planning and implementing a LCS research campaign. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org/ugos.

“Over time this campaign could generate valuable knowledge able to help improve understanding of the Gulf’s complex oceanographic systems, promote safer offshore operations, facilitate disaster response, and protect coastal communities and ecological resources, among other things,” said Oskvig.

Eight new projects were selected for grant awards through the first funding competition related to the LCS research campaign. The solicitation sought projects that would conduct specific studies or collect particular data and observations identified in the report as short-term needs to assist with the long-term research campaign. Planning for the next funding competition, which will also be directed at advancing the long-term LCS research campaign, is now underway and expected to open in 2019.

The eight projects chosen to receive awards totaling $10.3 million through the first funding competition for the LCS research campaign were selected through the GRP’s standard external peer review process. Listed in alphabetical order by project title, the projects are:

Dry Tortugas and Lower Keys High Frequency Radars
Award Amount: $1,371,027
Project Director: Clifford Merz (University of South Florida)
Project Team Affiliation: University of South Florida in cooperation with Rutgers University and University of Miami
Overview: This project will procure, install, and operate high frequency radar systems to measure surface currents at three locations in the Straits of Florida region of the Gulf of Mexico: Fort Jefferson/Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, and Marathon. Data from the systems will provide new, real-time data for model assimilation and validation to better understand the evolution of the LCS.

Gulf of Mexico Loop Current and Eddy Observations from HF Radar Systems
Award Amount: $1,229,424
Project Director: Stephan Howden (University of Southern Mississippi)
Project Team Affiliation: University of Southern Mississippi in cooperation with CODAR Ocean Sensors, Shell, and Rutgers University
Overview: This project will procure, install, and operate high frequency radar systems to measure surface currents from two offshore platforms at locations in the northeastern most areas of oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Data from the systems will provide new, real-time data for model assimilation and validation to better understand the evolution of the LCS.

Informing the Loop Current Campaign: Data Compilation to Improve Understanding, Simulation and Prediction of the Loop Current System
Award Amount: $647,813
Project Director: Barbara Kirkpatrick (Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association)
Project Team Affiliation: Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association in cooperation with Fugro, Harte Research Institute, Ocean Sierra, RPS, Texas A&M University—College Station, Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, and Woods Hole Group
Overview: This project will design, develop, deploy, and maintain an information system to digitally compile, update, analyze, and make publicly accessible physical oceanographic and hydrographic data from Gulf of Mexico Loop Current field studies. The system will be an important component of future data compilation efforts for a long-term LCS research campaign.

Loop Current Floats: Near Real-Time Hydrography and Deep Velocity in the Loop Current System Using Autonomous Profilers
Award Amount: $1,155,371
Project Director: Amy Bower (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Project Team Affiliation: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in cooperation with Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education at Ensenada)
Overview: This project will procure, deploy, and maintain a fleet of autonomous ocean dynamics-instrumented profiling floats to measure temperature, salinity, and current velocities in LCS active areas of the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Numerical Modeling
Award Amount: $2,100,946
Project Director: Ruoying He (North Carolina State University)
Project Team Affiliation: North Carolina State University in cooperation with Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education at Ensenada), Chevron, Florida State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and University of California – Santa Cruz
Overview: This project will perform assessments of existing Gulf of Mexico forecasting systems to test the performance and sensitivity of current models in resolving both surface and subsurface circulation and to evaluate long-range prediction capabilities.

Passive Gulf of Mexico Loop Current Observations from HF Radar Across the Yucatan Strait
Award Amount: $844,263
Project Director: Anthony Knap (Texas A&M University—College Station)
Project Team Affiliation: Texas A&M University—College Station in cooperation with CODAR Ocean Sensors and Rutgers University
Overview: This project will procure, install, and operate high frequency radar systems to measure surface currents at two locations in the Yucatan Channel region of the Gulf of Mexico: Isla Contoy and Puerto Morelos. Data from the systems will provide new, real-time data for model assimilation and validation to better understand the evolution of the LCS.

Pressure and Current Meters
Award Amount: $2,078,240
Project Director: Kathleen Donohue (University of Rhode Island)
Project Team Affiliation: University of Rhode Island
Overview: This project will procure and deploy a coherent field array of sensors in deep waters of the central Gulf region to measure currents and pressures in the full water column from areas near the ocean floor to the surface. Data collected about full water column circulation will increase understanding of LCS behavior and inform LCS forecasting efforts.

Taking the Pulse of the West Florida Shelf at a Hypothesized Loop Current Control Point
Award Amount: $937,997
Project Director: Robert Weisberg (University of South Florida)
Project Team Affiliation: University of South Florida in cooperation with University of Delaware
Overview: This project will procure, deploy, and operate a single-point, real-time, ocean dynamics mooring northwest of the Dry Tortugas to measure temperature, salinity, and currents at different depths.

A meeting is being held on Jan. 11 to convene project team members for the first funding awards for the LCS research campaign to plan for and facilitate coordination of efforts across the different projects. A portion of that meeting, from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. ET, will be broadcast as a webinar open to anyone interested in learning more about this first group of LCS research campaign projects along with the longer term vision and timeline for the research campaign. Registration is available at: bit.ly/ugos1update.

The National Academies' Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis. Visit nationalacademies.org/gulf to learn more.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.

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