The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) renowned expertise in ocean science research and technology provided the impetus for a $2.5 million grant awarded recently to the University by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
The award will be used to support the development of a Data Assembly Hub for Uncrewed Systems (UxS), which are autonomous or remotely operated vehicles that collect environmental data.
NOAA currently uses UxS for seafloor and habitat map- ping, ocean exploration, marine mammal and fishery stock assessments, emergency response, and at-sea observations that improve forecasting of extreme events, such as harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.
Dr. Henry Jones, Director of Research Development and Scientific Entrepreneurship at USM, explains that the Data Assembly Hub concept originated in 2020.
“NOAA thought leaders in data science asked USM for new ideas to handle the rapidly growing data produced by NOAA Uncrewed Systems,” said Jones. “That led to a successful pilot project, which was the foundation for this grant. We have been making progress over the three years since, and our team of faculty, students, industry partners, and NOAA experts are all excited to see it grow into something we expect to make a difference throughout NOAA.”
The Mississippi coast has become a national hotbed for testing and use of UxS to collect important data characterizing the seafloor and ocean habitats, measuring atmospheric conditions, and coastal monitoring such as erosion or damage assessments. Data collected from commercial and NOAA uncrewed systems will further the growth of the New Blue Economy around the nation.
“We are excited to see continued growth in our research collaboration with NOAA. Cultivating the Blue Economy on the Gulf Coast is a team effort,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM’s Vice President for Research. “This grant shows our shared focus on innovation and economic development with a global impact. We appreciate the continued support of our congressional delegation and our NOAA partners.”
The collaborative effort will serve as a critical pilot by aggregating UxS data and observations for environmental analysis and economic innovation, and it will support NOAA’s future data management strategy for understanding, utilizing and managing commercial cloud computing infrastructure. UxS data may be accessible to scientists, resource managers and industries interested in environmental model development, forecast improvements and resource conservation.
Jennifer Bowers, NOAA’s UxS Data Enterprise Project Manager at the National Centers for Environmental Information in Mississippi, noted: “Data provides the foundation for understanding our oceans and atmosphere. New computing technologies developed by USM for the Data Assembly Hub will enable NOAA to manage UxS data as an asset. This has the potential to inform immediate decisions, to place data in context for future predictions and past reconstructions as well as support the burgeoning Blue Economy.”
The Data Assembly Hub project began this fall and is scheduled for completion at the end of summer 2025. The timing provides an opportunity for USM students to participate in developing this groundbreaking data management project.
Jones emphasizes that the grant and subsequent data col- lection will provide innumer- able benefits to the Gulf South region.
“New products, insightful research, and wise policies require data, and this grant will make data access much simpler and more economical,” said Jones. “This creates a platform for our region to make the most of decades of NOAA data already collected, as well as new NOAA data as it streams in.”