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NOAA, University of Southern Mississippi Partner On New Blue Economy Activities

September 8, 2023
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NOAA has awarded nearly $2.5 million in grant funding to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to support the development of a Data Assembly Hub for Uncrewed Systems (UxS), which are autonomous or remotely operated vehicles that collect environmental data. 

The Mississippi coast has become a national leader in the area of testing and use of UxS to collect important data characterizing the seafloor and ocean habitats, measuring atmospheric conditions, and coastal monitoring such as erosion or damage assessments. Data collected from commercial and NOAA uncrewed systems will further the growth of the New Blue Economy around the nation.

This effort will serve as a critical pilot by aggregating UxS data and observations for environmental analysis and economic innovation, and it will support NOAA’s future data management strategy for understanding, utilizing and managing commercial cloud computing infrastructure. UxS data may be accessible to scientists, resource managers and industries interested in environmental model development, forecast improvements and resource conservation.

“This grant will support a creative team of academic, industry and government innovators who care about making NOAA’s uncrewed systems data available to the world,” said Dr. Henry Jones, USM’s Director of Research Development and Scientific Entrepreneurship.  “The Data Assembly Hub will support businesses, policy makers and researchers into the future and enable the latest artificial intelligence techniques.”

Jennifer Bowers, NOAA’s UxS Data Enterprise Project Manager at the National Centers for Environmental Information in Mississippi, said: “Data provides the foundation for understanding our oceans and atmosphere. New computing technologies developed by USM for the Data Assembly Hub will enable NOAA to manage UxS data as an asset. This has the potential to inform immediate decisions, to place data in context for future predictions and past reconstructions as well as support the burgeoning Blue Economy.”

For example, UxS can take on a variety of data types, ranging from bathymetric data to salinity, temperature data and full-motion video at high resolution. Any system that is designed to help manage the increasing amount of data also has to accommodate these different types of data. 

The two-year Data Assembly Hub project will start in Fall 2023 and conclude at the end of Summer 2025.  The timing provides an opportunity for USM students to participate in developing this groundbreaking data management project.   

This focus on student involvement in New Blue Economy received separate funding earlier this summer. NOAA Ocean Exploration recently awarded nearly $860k to USM through the NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI) to support UxS technologies and management of UxS data and to increase diversity in the blue economy workforce. 

“Any investment in advanced marine technology is only as meaningful and innovative as the data acquired.” said Jeremy Weirich, director of NOAA Ocean Exploration. “Through these projects, NOAA’s continued partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi works to ensure that uncrewed vehicles and new technologies yield useful and accessible data that will help the U.S. grow our ocean-based economy.” 

“We are excited to see continued growth in our research collaboration with NOAA. Cultivating the Blue Economy on the Gulf Coast is a team effort,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM’s Vice President for Research. “This grant shows our shared focus on innovation and economic development with a global impact. We appreciate the continued support of our congressional delegation and our NOAA partners."