Public Health

Public Health
(Photo by Chris Simoniello)

Whales in Gulf of Mexico

Healthy Ecosystems
(Photo by Christoph Richter for SWSS)

Coastal Hazards

Coastal Hazards
(Image from NOAA)

Marine Operations

Marine Operations
(Photo by Chris Simoniello)

Long-Term Change

Long-Term Change
(Image from USGS)


GCOOS is being built as a sustained observing system that integrates the resources of diverse entities to develop data, products, and information that will empower people, communities, businesses, and governments to make improved decisions about our lives as we work and play along the Nation’s Gulf Coast.

The GCOOS region encompasses the five Gulf Coast States – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida – from the Rio Grande border with Mexico through the Florida Straits. It spans the U.S. Gulf waters from the innermost estuarine and riverine reaches of tidal influence to the boundary of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. Figure 1 includes a map of the GCOOS Region.

Gulf of Mexico Region map

Figure 1. GCOOS Region (Image courtesy of the U.S. IOOS Office)

GCOOS has five general focus areas

GCOOS activities are organized around these five focus areas that illustrate the broad, beneficial uses of the observing system activities. In planning, a clear link is being made between the socioeconomic foci of GCOOS, the priorities of the Gulf stakeholders, and the required observing system elements. Click here to learn more about stakeholder priorities. Ocean observing systems can be used to help address the five societally-important focus areas listed above. GCOOS is using the information from our regional ocean observing system to create custom products for each of the focus areas. Click on the images below to read more about each focus area and what GCOOS is doing to benefit you and others who live, work and play along the Gulf Coast!


Stakeholder Priorities

Integrated Stakeholder Priorities

Stakeholders are people, companies, governmental units, and other entities that provide or use data, products, services, and information about the Gulf of Mexico. Stakeholders can be grouped according to common interests, such as K-12 educators, recreational boaters, state natural resource agencies, federal environmental agencies, the offshore oil and gas industry, emergency responders, and beachgoers to name a few. The stakeholders in the Gulf of Mexico have a number of high priority issues facing them in the coming years, and examples are provided. We determined the stakeholder priorities using several different sources. We have integrated these sources into a single priority listing (Table 1), which will change through time as the needs of the different stakeholder groups in the Gulf of Mexico change. Specific source documents are referenced below.

Table 1. Integrated GCOOS Stakeholder Priorities
Priority Product or Data Stakeholder Sectors
Obtain accurate bathymetry and topography with consistent vertical control between data sets in the coastal zone, including locations of shorelines. Emergency managers, surge modelers, recreational boaters (bathymetry and shorelines), urban planners and developers, insurance industry (topography and shorelines), oil and gas, marine transportation (shorelines and navigationally significant waters, especially federally mandated channels, approaches, and anchorages)
Improve coverage of real-time currents in the coastal zone and navigable estuaries using HF radars as primary technique
Marine transportation, recreational boaters, oil and gas sector, Coast Guard SAR
Improve real-time, offshore meteorology measurements (V, P, T, H)
Oil and gas sector, Coast Guard SAR, surge modelers, HABs monitoring, recreational boaters
Improve forecasts and nowcast models of sea level, winds, and waves; this requires added real-time measurements
Recreational boaters, oil and gas sector, Coast Guard SAR, storm surge modelers, emergency managers
Improve hurricane severity forecasts
Emergency managers, oil and gas sector, recreational boaters
Improve forecasts and nowcasts of surface currents offshore
HABs tracking, oil and gas sector, Coast Guard SAR
Improve severe weather monitoring, forecasting, and dissemination
Oil and gas sector, recreational boaters, HABs tracking and fate
Enhance measurements of water quality parameters
Oil and gas sector, recreational boaters, HABs detection and fate
Implement a modern, real-time current and water level observing system in all major ports
Marine transportation, recreational boaters
Establish coastal storm surge/inundation maps for mitigation planning (not real time)
Oil and gas sector, insurance, real estate, planners, emergency manager
Improve information on and forecasts of visibility
Coast Guard SAR, recreational boaters
Produce upper ocean profiles of temperature, salinity, and currents
Oil and gas sector, recreational boaters (near artificial reefs and major diving locations)
Produce reliable forecast maps of three-dimensional currents offshore
Oil and gas sector
Improve real-time forecasts of coastal inundation
Emergency managers, general public
Increase number of stations monitoring HABs
Public and animal health officials, HABs monitoring network
Improve data and product dissemination techniques taking into account the sophistication of the user Requirement of all sectors



Gulf of Mexico Stakeholder Priority Issues

Gulf of Mexico stakeholders have a number of high priority issues facing them in the coming years. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Harmful Algal Blooms that affect human and animal health
  • Hypoxia that affects animal health and human activities such as fishing
  • Extensive use of the coastal habitat by recreational boating, surfing, diving, beach going and other tourist activities that requires knowledge of surface currents and waves for human protection and search and rescue
  • Extensive urban development that will require knowledge of the currents, waves, and coastal flooding probabilities for sustainable development as well as knowledge of the vulnerabilities and monitoring of the affected coastal ecosystems so that mitigation measures can be implemented to protect important natural resources
  • Low lying coastal landscape that is vulnerable to storm surge and inundation in an area of the world frequented by hurricanes, tropical storms, and winter cyclones
  • An oil and gas industry that refines about 40% of the crude oil, 30% of the natural gas of the U.S., but which is vulnerable to strong currents and hurricanes
  • Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration from impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
  • Twelve of the top 20 U.S. ports in terms of tonnage or cargo value, with two in the top global seven, and that require real-time knowledge of water depth and currents for safe passage through coastal waters
  • A fishing industry that yields 69% of the shrimp and 70% of the oyster catches in the U.S., as well as many fish varieties, and that requires healthy coastal ecosystems to prosper
  • The watersheds of 33 states drain into the Gulf from over 150 individual rivers, of which 20 are major river systems including the Mississippi River; this river discharge brings high nutrient loads, pollutants, and sediments into the coastal waters
  • Industrial activity, including shipping, in and near the coastal waters that could result in spills of pollutants that will need to be tracked effectively to improve opportunities for clean up and protection of ecosystems and beaches



How Priorities are Determined

Priorities for GCOOS measurements and derived products are determined using several approaches.

  • We hold workshops that target specific stakeholder communities (e.g., recreational boaters, emergency managers, or petroleum producers). The objectives of these workshops are to identify with priorities the measurements and products needed by the specific community, identify pilot projects that might further the development of the needed measurements or products, and obtain cost estimates as feasible.
  • We use advice from the groups comprising the organizational structure of the GCOOS-RA: the Board of Directors, Councils, and Committees. These groups consist of people from many different stakeholder sectors of the private, governmental, and academic communities, so the advice given is a realistic representation of many different sectors and contributes to the determination of priorities.
  • We encourage broad input in the preparation of our guiding documents such as the GCOOS Observing System Plan, the plan for a GCOOS Operations Center, and the draft plan for a Gulf of Mexico Harmful Algal Bloom Integrated Observing System. In this manner the needs of many different stakeholder sectors are incorporated into our overall planning.
  • When funding opportunities become available, calls for suggestions are made via the GCOOS listserv, which is open to anyone who wishes to be on it, and to the public via the GCOOS web site. All suggestions received are reviewed by one or more of the GCOOS committees and by the Board of Directors. A selection is made based on how the suggested projects will provide data or products of high priority. A number have resulted in working teams preparing successful proposals.



Stakeholder Priority Source Documents

These documents include sources for the Seven Societal Themes of the IOOS, the GCOOS-RA Stakeholder Priority Tables, the GCOOS-RA Design Documents, and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Priority Issues.

1.     Seven Societal Themes of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System

The seven societal goals of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) are:

  1. Improve predictions of climate change and weather and their effects on coastal communities and the nation;
  2. Protect and restore healthy coastal ecosystems more effectively;
  3. Reduce public health risks;
  4. Enable the sustained use of ocean and coastal resources;
  5. Improve the safety and efficiency of maritime operations;
  6. Improve national and homeland security; and
  7. Mitigate the effects of natural hazards more effectively.

These societal goals were articulated in the early planning documents for the IOOS. More information can be found in:


2.     GCOOS-RA Stakeholder Priority Tables

The details of priorities identified to date by the focused stakeholder workshops and resource materials are shown in individual tables. These have been integrated into a set of priority activities that require measurements and information. Each activity addresses one or more of the seven societal goals and the issues identified above.
Each table is linked below.

  • Table 1: Priority Activities, Products, and Information for the GCOOS and Their Societal Benefits
  • Table 2: Priority Activities, Measurements, Research and Development Needs, and Education/Outreach Aspects
  • Table 3: Priority Products for Oil and Gas Sector
  • Table 4: Priority Measurements for Oil and Gas Sector
  • Table 5: Storm Surge and Inundation Workshop Priorities: Products/Measurements to Enhance Resilience to Inundation
  • Table 6: Pilot Projects to Enhance Resilience to Inundation
  • Table 7: Preliminary HABs Priorities: Recommended Actions for Monitoring and Forecasting HABs
  • Table 8: Recreational Boating Priorities
  • Table 9: Preliminary Marine Transportation Priorities
  • Table 10: Preliminary Search and Rescue Priorities

3.     GCOOS-RA Design Documents

GCOOS Build-out Plan Version 2.1

Over the past 10 years, the GCOOS-RA has been working with many stakeholders. The collective expertise of these stakeholders has informed the development of a plan that includes the necessary elements for a comprehensive Gulf of Mexico Observing System. The plan includes: observing and monitoring; data management and communications serving real-time and legacy data as well as data-based products and model output; modeling and analysis; outreach and education; and estimated costs. Comments on any aspect of the plan are welcome at any time. Send comments to Barb Kirkpatrick (

Conceptual Design Version 1.2

The Conceptual Design was issued in 2008. It provides information on the establishment of GCOOS and also relates the GCOOS design for data and products to the seven societal themes of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System; it also gives the prioritized measurements and products from the specific stakeholder workshops held to date.

Observing System Plan

This Observing System Plan includes information to date on observing system requirements in the Gulf of Mexico, observing system strategies and implementation, and determining priorities for observing systems. The content of this plan will evolve with development of the U.S. IOOS and GCOOS. As such, this is a living document that is subject to continued revision.

Priority Observing System Activities

This is a list of priority enhancements or additions to the regional system of GCOOS. These priorities are predicated on the assumption that the priority enhancements to the national backbone will be forthcoming. A high priority is a set aside of regional funds for education and outreach. High priority outreach areas are the identification of system users and capacity building between Gulf States (U.S. and Mexican) for harmful algal bloom measurements.

4.     Gulf of Mexico Alliance Priority Issues

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) is a partnership of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, with the goal of significantly increasing regional collaboration to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The GCOOS-RA is a partner with the Alliance in this effort. Two Governors’ Action Plans have been developed since the 2006 inception of the Alliance. GOMA partners are currently working under Action Plan II. As part of the Governors’ Action Plans, the Alliance identified six priority issues that are regionally significant and can be effectively addressed through increased collaboration at the local, state and federal levels. These priorities represent an initial focus for action through the Alliance:

  • Water Quality: to help ensure healthy beaches and safe seafood in our coastal areas
  • Habitat Conservation and Restoration: advance conservation and restoration of coastal habitats and ecosystems throughout the Gulf and associated watersheds
  • Ecosystem Integration and Assessment: improve accessibility and awareness of the extensive data available throughout the Gulf region
  • Nutrients & Nutrient Impacts: to make communities more resilient in order to sustain and grow the region’s economic prosperity
  • Coastal Community Resilience
  • Environmental Education: to provide educational programs to improve the nation’s understanding and appreciation of the Gulf and its abundant natural and living resources.

Each priority identifies long-term goals for the region and a number of actions to achieve those goals and will address challenges facing the Gulf.