NOAA awards cooperative agreement to UNH/NOAA Joint Hydrographic Center

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey awarded a 5-year cooperative agreement to the University of New Hampshire for the continuation of the Joint Hydrographic Center. The Joint Hydrographic Center is a NOAA/University research and education partnership aimed at maintaining a world-leading center of excellence in hydrography and ocean mapping. The new award, which will begin in January 2021, will build on the work of the Center since its founding in 1999. 

In announcing the award with New Hampshire’s congressional delegation on August 27, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, ranking member on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee, noted, “The University of New Hampshire’s Joint Hydrographic Center is a national center of excellence that has deepened our understanding of the world’s oceans. The Center is making significant contributions to education, research and technological advances in ocean mapping and hydrographic sciences, and it’s important that this work continue to be funded.”

The Joint Hydrographic Center has had a long history of developing tools and techniques that had a major impact on the field of hydrography as well as educating many of the leaders in the field.  Over the last five years, the Center:

  • continued in the development of innovative new approaches to increase the efficiency and accuracy of ocean mapping data processing,
  • developed new approaches for calibrating mapping systems and extracting bathymetric data from satellite imagery,
  • pioneered the use of autonomous vehicles for hydrographic and other mapping applications,
  • developed tools to locate, visualize and quantify gas and oil seeps from the seafloor,
  • explored the use of ocean mapping data to better understand seafloor and fisheries habitat, and
  • developed innovative new approaches for visualizing, in both 3- and 4-D a range of oceanographic and ocean mapping data.

“I am thrilled that NOAA will continue its support for the Joint Hydrographic Center at the University of New Hampshire,” said Rear Admiral Shepard M. Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “This has been Coast Survey’s most important partnership in the past two decades as we have led the global hydrographic community in technology and advanced navigation services, and integrated these services across the ocean mapping community.” 

Students from the Center recovering a seafloor grab sampler.
Students from the Center recovering a seafloor grab sampler during their capstone summer hydrographic field course.

In the next five years we expect the Joint Hydrographic Center to continue at the forefront of hydrographic and ocean mapping research and education, leading in the development of the tools and approaches for defining the next generation of hydrography and training the next generation of hydrographers and ocean mappers.  In line with Coast Survey’s strategic plan, our cooperative efforts at the Center will focus on three main themes:

  • Advance the Technology to Map U.S. Waters,
  • Advance the Technology for Digital Navigation Services, and
  • Develop and Advance Marine Geospatial and Soundscape Expertise.

Projects under these themes will include making autonomous mapping vehicles and systems truly autonomous, taking advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools to provide situational awareness for these un-crewed vessels and aerial drones, and developing “edge” processing software that will work on the vehicles to minimize the data that needs to be transmitted back to shore. We will look for new ways to work in and take advantage of the “cloud,” again using AI/ML techniques to increase the efficiency and the accuracy of our data processing approaches. We will also focus on the concept of “characterizing” the seafloor and the water column looking for techniques that will allow our echo sounders to help us determine “what” we are looking at.

The Joint Hydrographic Center's autonomous survey vessel BEN underway for autonomous mapping trials off Portsmouth New Hampshire.
The Joint Hydrographic Center’s autonomous survey vessel BEN underway for autonomous mapping trials off Portsmouth New Hampshire.

The Center will support the growing demand for precision navigation, investigating and developing novel, perceptually optimized visualization techniques for mariner-friendly display of modern navigational and oceanographic data products. Not only do these products include high-resolution bathymetry and shoreline, but also real-time and forecast water levels, ocean and estuary flow models from NOAA’s Operational Forecast Systems, AIS vessel traffic, and bridge air gap sensors. As part of this effort, the Center will investigate how to fit the visualizations within ECDIS standardized presentation modes and how to implement these techniques within ECDIS/PPU systems while simultaneously providing supplemental visual analysis tools to support decision making. Extending the mode in which these tools may be utilized we will also explore the use of augmented reality (AR) to provide heads-up navigational information to mariners.

The Joint Hydrographic Center’s most lasting contribution may be the new generation of hydrographers, ocean mappers, and ocean data scientists who are educated in the program.  Since its founding, the center has awarded 183 graduate degrees and graduate certificates to students from the United States and 50 other countries, many of which are taking leading roles in the international hydrographic community.

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