Newswise — The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA) has been awarded $1.8 million a year for the next five years to support data collection and distribution in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ocean observations are essential not only for emergency response operations, but also provide data for longer-term restoration activities and overall scientific understanding in the Gulf of Mexico. They support:• Safe oil and gas production• Safe shipping• Public health protections• Public safety from storm events and other disasters• Healthy ecosystems

The federal grant comes from the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (U.S. IOOS), which coordinates the nation’s comprehensive ocean observing network and provides support to regional associations that represent the needs and priorities of the coastal areas they operate within. GCOOS is one of 11 regional coastal ocean observing systems to receive more than $31 million through IOOS.

“Ocean observing is a collaborative effort and in order to build a strong, comprehensive national network, it’s essential that we work with dynamic regional associations that are integrated into the communities they serve,” said Zdenka Willis, U.S. IOOS Director. “It's because of regional associations like GCOOS that the national Integrated Ocean Observing System is able to reflect the needs of so many diverse communities and industries that rely on ocean observing data everyday.”

GCOOS aggregates data from a variety of platforms such as buoys, satellites, ships, drifters and autonomous underwater vehicles to make integrated sustained observations in the Gulf of Mexico. The information from these platforms is integrated into a public data portal and used to develop computer models that decipher environmental changes and forecast oceanic conditions.

The organization includes 143 members from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida working in the fishing and energy sectors, academia, governmental and nongovernmental organizations that help set the organization’s goals so that GCOOS provides the greatest possible benefit to the 14 million people who call the Gulf Coast home.

“Instead of operating its own assets, GCOOS focuses on conducting education and outreach activities, along with data collection and distribution through our data portals and the products we develop,” said Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, GCOOS Executive Director. “That way, we can provide grant support to outside investigators who develop and implement data collection using their own platforms, allowing us to leverage our limited dollars to increase our partnership with organizations throughout the Gulf and develop a more comprehensive system.”

GCOOS funds work conducted by:• Texas A&M University: Matt Howard, Chris Simoniello, and Lisa Campbell• Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi: Felimon Gayanilo• Conrad Blutcher Institute: Gary Jeffress• Louisiana State University: Chunyan Li and Nan Walker• Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation: Eric Milbrandt• University of Southern Mississippi: Stephan Howden• Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory: Lei Hu• Mote Marine Laboratory: Kellie Dixon and Tracy Fanara• University of South Florida: Chad Lembke, Frank Muller Karger, Mark Luther and Chuanmin Hu• University of Colorado: Bob Leben

Their projects support key GCOOS goals, including protecting public health and safety, supporting healthy ecosystems and better water quality, mitigating the effects of natural and man-made disasters, monitoring the Gulf for long-term environmental changes and trends and ensuring safe and efficient marine operations.

GCOOS projects include:• Operations for monitoring systems off the coasts of the five Gulf states — including operation of high-frequency radar stations, buoys, autonomous underwater vehicles and other observing platforms.• Development of better mapping tools and oceanic models that provide better predictions on environmental changes — from coastal inundation to the impact of nutrients on coastal waters.• Increased monitoring and early warning programs for harmful algal blooms, such as the Gulf red tide that particularly impacts Florida and Texas.