The Latest from NOAA – A Q&A with Deputy Administrator RDML Tim Gallaudet

April 22, 2019

In recent discussions with RDML Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy NOAA Administrator, I was intrigued to learn about some of the initiatives and priorities at the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

We invited him to answer some questions for our membership about NOAA’s vision for the way forward. It is my hope that this new addition to our MTS communications portfolio will be a model for similar efforts in the future. – Rick Spinrad, president of the Marine Technology Society

Q. What does NOAA want to include in a reinvigorated National Oceanographic Partnership Program?

A. NOAA has a deliberate funding increase of $5 million in our FY20 budget to reinvigorate the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). With private sector, interagency, academia, and NGO matching contributions, we will competitively seek innovative and transformational research in 7 Priority Areas: (1) Oceans exploration and characterization of the US EEZ; (2) Harnessing environmental data to manage living marine resources; (3) Reducing marine debris and ocean plastics; (4) Coupled modeling of air-sea interactions; (5) Advancing domestic aquaculture; (6) Understanding and mitigating the impact of noise on marine mammals; and (7) Promoting sustainable offshore wind energy development.

Q. What expanded roles does NOAA see for the private sector in the ocean realm?

A. Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, put it best when in a recent speech he said that we are entering a second bold era in American research and development. The first, post-WWII bold era ushered in the space age, and nuclear power, while mostly relying on government resources. In the new, second bold era we’ve seen funding for American R&D vastly expand – not because government budgets have increased, in fact, they’ve been fairly flat for years. It is because the U.S. private sector has stepped up and begun participating in a huge way, contributing more funding, talent, and resources to the scientific enterprise than ever before.

NOAA helped blaze the trail for innovative public-private sector R&D collaboration when the National Weather Service opened up access to troves of weather data for the American public. That data has since become an invaluable resource that American entrepreneurs tapped into for creating entire new forecasting industries.

Today, the deep blue sea really knows no limits for private sector participation. Just as commercial space companies like Space-X are making transformational advances in interplanetary travel, we seek to support SpaceX-like R&D for the world’s oceans.

Q. How does NOAA intend to foster growth in the private blue tech enterprise?

A. NOAA intends to directly and indirectly support the growth of America’s Blue Tech Enterprise. Our direct support comes in the form of unmanned systems, purchase of commercial ship observations, and our Earth System Modeling (which includes a significant ocean component). Our indirect support to the growth of Blue Tech Enterprise comes in the form of improvements to our data and services that support various sectors within the enterprise. In fisheries and seafood production, for example, we are combining electronic monitoring, big data, artificial intelligence, and environmental DNA (eDNA) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of stock assessments. Similarly, partnering with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), we’ve developed a geospatial toolkit called OceanReports that allows users to quickly and easily determine from more than 100 datasets the feasibility for a wide range of uses in coastal and ocean areas, such as energy or minerals development, aquaculture, recreation, or military activities.

Q. How does NOAA view the New Blue Economy (i.e. the information-based economy)?

A. Using our data and services to grow the American Blue Economy has been one of the top priorities for NOAA since the beginning of this Administration, and we are proud to have that role. Our primary Blue Economy lines of effort are (1) Improving the safety and efficiency of the Marine Transportation System; (2) Expanding the exploration and characterization of the US EEZ; (3) Promoting increases in coastal and ocean recreation and tourism, especially through our National Marine Sanctuaries and (4) Advancing American Seafood Competitiveness to reduce the nation’s seafood trade deficit through expanding domestic aquaculture, combatting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and preventing illegal and fraudulent seafood imports.

Q. What exciting developments in unmanned systems is NOAA pursuing?

A. NOAA is working to establish an Unmanned Systems Office in our Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. This is a truly exciting development as it will allow us to implement provisions of the CENOTE Act to partner more closely with the Navy on unmanned system testing, training, development, acquisition, and operations. Today, NOAA has a fleet of about 100 platforms for all domains (air, sea surface, undersea), but none of their activities are coordinated across line offices. Thus, an Unmanned Operations Office will be critical to helping us better realize the transformational potential of this technology.

Q. There are some new technologies that are showing signs of significant impact for marine applications (e.g. AI, ‘omics’, eDNA).  What is your sense of the viability of these technologies?  Would you care to speculate on the range of applications for these and other emergent technologies?

A. As with above, I have confidence in these new technologies. They are already allowing us to do more, better, and at a fraction of the cost.

Q. What new developments is NOAA pursuing in the area of earth system prediction?

A. There is not enough room in this article to adequately describe all the fantastic developments NOAA is making in the field of Earth System Prediction. But I’ll give one: the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), which will serve as the community modeling center to transition research developments to operations. Dr. Jacobs, NOAA’s acting Administrator, developed this with extraordinary contributions from within NOAA and key partners like the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Q. From an operational perspective, who are the new partners that NOAA will engage with in the near future?

A. Operationally, we are looking at working with traditional partners in new ways, as well as new partners altogether. For the former, we intend to partner closely with the Coast Guard on Unmanned System Operations for activities such as joint fisheries enforcement and marine mammal surveys. The new partners we are already working with are in the private sector, to include commercial cloud computing companies, as well as with NGOs and private philanthropic organizations.

Q.How does NOAA intend to engage with/ participate in the UN Decade for Ocean Science in Support of Sustainability?

A. NOAA is engaged in numerous activities that align with the vision for the UN Decade for Ocean Science to improve ocean health. Our Marine Debris Program is a great example. The President signed the Save Our Seas Act that reauthorizes this program and adds provisions to build waste management capacity in the countries that are the biggest sources of ocean pollution.

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