Board sets priorities, welcomes new board members

The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association celebrated its milestone 10th anniversary last week during the organization’s annual meeting for members and its board of directors in New Orleans. GCOOS-RA is a nonprofit organization responsible for developing a network of business leaders, marine scientists, resource managers, governmental and non-governmental organizations and other stakeholder groups that combine their data to provide timely information about our oceans to the public, industry and others.

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From left to right: Zdenka Willis, Director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System Program; Dr. Mark Luther, Associate Professor, University of South Florida; Dr. Mike Spranger, Professor, University of Florida; Dr. Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director and Professor of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Dr. Worth Nowlin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University. Drs. Luther, Spranger, Rabalais and Nowlin were all on the first GCOOS Board of Directors. Photo copyright GCOOS-RA.

GCOOS-RA includes members from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida in the U.S. and, with the recent signing of a new partnership agreement, Mexico’s Consortium of Institutions for Marine Research. The backbone of the organization is the information gathered by GCOOS members and shared through a public data portal.

GCOOS-RA was created in 2005 as part of a national movement in the U.S. to develop regional ocean observing capabilities and systems that could provide timely information about oceans for users in oil, gas and maritime industries, for recreational boaters and ocean users and for resource managers in government tasked with protecting and sustaining vital natural resources.

When GCOOS-RA was created, it had 11 members and was aggregating data from 11 providers throughout the Gulf plus 40 mobile and fixed-drilling platforms Today, it has 135 members and It is aggregating data from 318 stations that have more than 1,900 sensors. The information it provides includes surface and subsurface conditions, model forecasts and resources, data from oil and gas platforms, information on harmful algal blooms and hypoxic zones, as well as other data needed by industry and others.

Staff members Brad Ferguson (far left) and Andrew Hinkebein (far right) from the office of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, attended the GCOOS-RA annual meeting in New Orleans, where they had an opportunity to learn more about GCOOS' mission and history. They're pictured with Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, GCOOS-RA Executive Director (middle left) and Zdenka Willis, Director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) (center right). Photo copyright GCOOS-RA.

Staff members Brad Ferguson (far left) and Andrew Hinkebein (far right) from the office of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, attended the GCOOS-RA annual meeting in New Orleans, where they had an opportunity to learn more about GCOOS’ mission and history. They’re pictured with Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, GCOOS-RA Executive Director (middle left) and Zdenka Willis, Director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) (center right). Photo copyright GCOOS-RA.

“Gulf coast states constitute the sixth-largest economy in the world, a statistic largely attributable to the activity associated with our ports, waterways and energy production,” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, who spoke during the GCOOS-RA meeting. “The more we understand the Gulf, the better we can protect the lives, commerce and natural resources that make this region one of the most culturally and economically productive in the world.”

Representatives from the office of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, also attended the meeting.

Key discussions focused on GCOOS’ plan for fully developing the Gulf observing system (Build Out Plan 2.1) and key priorities for projects that GCOOS-RA will fund for the next five years (2016-2021), said Executive Director Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick. “The development of new and better technology has helped us progress by leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. Today, we are providing information needed to protect lives and the environment. We’ve grown from just a dozen members to more than 100 organizations that see the value in working together to provide information that improves lives through better marine forecasts, better hurricane forecasts and can even help restore the environment after a disaster.”

Key priorities for the next five years include:

  • Expansion of the high frequency radar (HFR) system in the Gulf of Mexico. HFR is a system of transmitters and radio antenna receivers along coastlines or on oil platforms; they transmit radio signals that are relayed to the receivers after bouncing off the ocean’s surface. These signals indicate where currents are moving and sometimes, wave heights. This information leads to better data products in near-real time and improved forecast models. Faster predictions can be vital when coastlines are at risk from hurricanes and oil spills such as the one that occurred after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. Nineteen HFR stations are currently in the Gulf and Southeastern Atlantic coast — with no HFR coverage at all in Louisiana and Texas. (Learn more.)
  • Supporting autonomous underwater gliders (AUGs) and autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) as data collection and observing platforms in the Gulf.
  • Sustaining current observation assets, such as moored buoys, water level stations and water quality monitoring stations.

GCOOS also elected new board members who will serve three-year terms, including three returning members.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, with Dr. Mark Luther of the University of South Florida.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, with Dr. Mark Luther of the University of South Florida. Photo copyright GCOOS-RA.

Returning members:

  • Terry McPherson, Senior Program Manager at LMI Research Institute. McPherson supports NOAA’s newly chartered Climate Data Record Program (CDRP), which is responsible for compiling climate data records from legacy and new satellite systems by removing non-climate related observing biases.
  • Dr. Mike Spranger, Professor and Community Development Specialist at the University of Florida. Spranger coordinates outreach activities, conducts research and teaches graduate courses focused on citizen participation, civic engagement and community resiliency.
  • Bill Lingsch, Director of Ocean Science and Technology at Vencore, Inc. Lingsch manages personnel who provide subject-matter expertise related to ocean sciences, software engineering, database development, process improvement, web applications, configuration management and documentation for agencies that include Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Naval Research Labs, NOAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

New members:

  • Dr. Alyssa Dausman, Science Advisor at the U.S. Geological Survey. Dausman advises on science and monitoring to support restoration from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, including the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration and the science to support DOI related to the RESTORE Act.
  • Charlene Bohanon, Water Quality Program Manager, Galveston Bay Foundation. Bohanon serves as a grant writer, program developer and project manager for a variety of water quality efforts including the Upper Gulf Coast Oyster Waters TMDL Implementation Plan, Clean Water Partnerships, College Research Experience and various campaigns, workshops, and citizen advocate programs at the Foundation.
  • Dr. Gary A. Jeffress, Professor of Geographic Information Science and Director of the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Jeffress is Principal Investigator for the Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network and the Texas Height Modernization program, which have developed unique online real-time data access and archiving systems.