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Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems Grants 1 - Request for Applications

Key Dates and Information 

Awards Available
Total funding available: $10 million
Award duration: Up to 24 months

February 27, 2018: Online application submission opens
April 25, 2018, 5:00 pm ET: Applications due 

Award Selection and Notification
Fall-Winter 2018

Details for this opportunity are still being finalized.

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Topic: Studies and Observations to Inform Loop Current Campaign

The Gulf Research Program seeks to support activities that will supply new observations, analyses, and modeling needed to advance our understanding of Loop Current dynamics for the purpose of improving predictive skills of the Loop Current and associated eddies, referred to as the Loop Current System (LCS). This solicitation is the first of several funding opportunities for a research campaign aimed at improving understanding and prediction skills of the LCS. Proposed observations, analyses, and modeling should specifically address recommendations for near-term activities identified in the consensus report Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current: Gaps and Recommendations, released in January 2018. These near-term activities can be started or accomplished without extensive planning and are meant to either jumpstart or inform the design of a long-term (10-yr), integrative program. 

The LCS is the dominant physical process in Gulf of Mexico waters. Oceanographic parameters within the Gulf basin, from coastal ecosystems to the deep abyss, are affected by the position, and duration at a given position, of the Loop Current and associated eddies. Understanding the dynamics driving the LCS is a significant first step towards achieving a long-term outcome of improved understanding of the complexity of the Gulf of Mexico as a system, which is critical to the Gulf Research Program's vision.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine produce expert consensus reports that identify research needs, opportunities, or challenges for advancing science and ensuring the application of science to address real-world problems. The National Academies' 2018 report Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current: Gaps and Recommendations identifies a suite of complementary observations, analyses, and modeling efforts intended to provide critical information about the LCS to help promote safer offshore operations, better understand the Gulf’s complex oceanographic systems, facilitate disaster response, help protect coastal communities, protect and manage ecological resources, and predict and forecast weather and climate impacts. Expected to take about 10-12 years and cost between $100 million and $125 million, the recommended campaign is intended to increase understanding of the dynamics of the LCS and thereby improve prediction skills of the Loop Current’s behavior.

The report provides 30 recommendations for elements of the research campaign that include both near-term and long-term (decadal length) activities. These activities are divided into observational components, technology enhancements, analyses and theory, and data assimilation and numerical modeling techniques needed to provide critical information about the LCS. The recommendations are intended to help guide future funding investments by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as federal U.S. agencies, Mexican and Cuban oceanographic organizations, industry, research institutions, and other ocean science sponsors.

Applications Sought:
The report Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current: Gaps and Recommendations identified several specific observations and studies as foundational activities that should start in the near-term while the more comprehensive campaign is being organized. We seek applications for projects that directly respond to specific report recommendations categorized under the headings below. As indicated below, refer to specific recommendations in the report for additional details. If an applicant wishes to respond to more than one of the topic headings below, they must submit an application for each topic separately.

1. High Frequency (HF) Radar (with range capability of ~150-200km): Provide new, real-time data for model assimilation and validation, and to better understand the evolution of the LCS, by procuring, installing, and/or operating for 2 years (with an opportunity for extension of up to another 10 years):
  • At least three multi-static HF radar systems from fixed platforms in the northeastern most areas of oil and gas operations. (Refer to Recommendation 3)
  • At least three new HF radar systems covering the general Florida Straits outflow region. (Refer to Recommendation 10)
  • At least two HF radar systems in the inflow area, one looking north (from the Cozumel Island area) and at least one looking across the inflow from the upper Yucatan Peninsula.  (Refer to Recommendation 11)
Please note:
  1. An applicant can respond to one or more of the above sub-bullets in a single application.
  2. The GRP requires observational data be available widely and publicly; for this reason, we encourage the applicant to collaborate with the IOOS Regional Associations and the NOAA IOOS HF radar Data Assembly Center (DAC) in all installations and operations to ensure established procedure and protocols are followed for integrating quality data into the IOOS system.
2. Pressure and Current Meters: Procure field array of 20 to 25 deep sensors that measure bottom pressure and integrated currents from near bottom to the surface and deploy them in a coherent sub-array for process-understanding and/or feature-mapping in the deep eastern Gulf where the extended Loop Current can be found (generally, 25°-28° North Latitude, 85°-91° West Longitude) for 2 years (with an opportunity for extension of up to another 10 years). It is intended that this field array be extended (during future funding opportunities) with an additional 20 to 25 bottom mounted instruments to complete a laterally correlated ~60 km spacing in the LCS area (25°-28° North Latitude, 85°-91° West Longitude); proposed array designs should be compatible with this longer term recommendation for an expanded array.  For this near term observation field program, applications should not include near real-time data retrieval; rather, a data retrieval plan should be proposed that will inform the Gulf Research Program about the value of such observation systems and inform the design of a more fully populated array of instruments for the main decade-long campaign.  A separate near-term task (see Topic 6 below) is to examine data communications options that may make near real-time data capture for such instruments affordable. (Refer to Recommendation 6)

3. Mooring Arrays - Campeche Bank, Yucatan Channel, and Florida Straits: Three mooring arrays, currently operated by CICESE (Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada [Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education at Ensenada]), are located in critical areas for better understanding Loop Current dynamics; the arrays are located across the Campeche Bank, across the Yucatan Channel, and across the Florida Straits. The funding for these arrays expires in June of 2018. Three tasks are included as near-term recommendations in association with these existing mooring arrays:
  • Extend operations of the mooring arrays (including procurement of equipment, as needed) beyond June 2018 (for the next two years, with the opportunity for extension up to an additional 10 years) with appropriate data sharing from the moorings in both Mexico and Cuba.
  • Establish an agreement to gain access to the ocean dynamics data recovered from these moorings from the time period 2011-to-present.
  • As appropriate, analyze archived data to explore effects of bathymetry on LCS behavior, inflow analysis, and outflow analysis.
(Refer to Recommendations 8, 9, and 12)

Please note: An applicant can respond to part, one, or more of the above sub-bullets in a single application.

4. Pressure Point Mooring: Procure, deploy, and operate a single-point, real-time, ocean dynamics mooring that, minimally, measures temperature, salinity, and currents at discrete depths for 2 years (with opportunity for extension of up to another 10 years) at the shelf break region, just to the northwest of the Dry Tortugas to confirm times when the Loop Current is driving the West Florida Shelf circulation, a phenomenon hypothesized to also be controlling the Loop Current itself. (Refer to Recommendation 15)

5. Profilers:
Procure and operate a new set of ocean dynamics-instrumented profilers (e.g., Argo operated in 0-2000 m) in active areas of the LCS.  This recommendation (Recommendation 4) was not designated as a “near-term priority” in the consensus report; however, it is included in this solicitation as a profiler fleet would provide immediate valuable input into the larger campaign development.

6. Communications Network
: Determine the feasibility of a data communications network (e.g., acoustics or fiber optics) that might be adopted to gather and/or communicate data from bottom mounted instruments and provide near-real time data to the surface in an affordable manner. Consideration of docking solutions and/or deep acoustic data communication network nodes for interoperability with autonomous surface and/or underwater vehicles in the design is encouraged. (Refer to Recommendations 16, 17 and 19)

7. Data Compilation: Digitally compile, analyze, and make publicly accessible physical oceanographic data from Gulf of Mexico field studies from ~ 2002 to 2017 (refer to Recommendation 27).  The objective of this activity is to produce a climatology-like data set to help prioritize the process studies necessary to improve understanding, simulation, and prediction of the LCS. Secondly, the database should inform criteria and constraints useful in design of future field observations and numerical modeling efforts.

Key oceanographic variables include temperature, salinity, conductivity, sea surface height, and current velocity at the ocean surface and throughout the full water-column. Instrument platforms include acoustic Doppler current profilers, single point current meters, ship and air deployed expendable sensors (e.g., expendable bathythermographs [XBT]), CTD [conductivity, temperature, and depth], autonomous underwater vehicles, high-frequency radar, underwater buoyancy gliders, Lagrangian drifters, moored current meters, surface buoys, benthic platforms).

The database should conform to standard oceanographic archival practice for formatting and metadata using guidance from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), NOAA IOOS-QARTOD, and other oceanographic data centers. Data sources include but are not limited to federal sources such as BOEM, BSEE, NOAA,)as well as the offshore oil and gas industry, academic institutions, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, and other state, local, and federal agencies, and data available from neighboring Gulf nations.

8. Numerical modeling: Review leading federal and academic Gulf prediction systems to test their performance and sensitivity in resolving both surface and subsurface circulation. The analyses should provide valuable insights into physical processes and dynamics of the LCS. For this funding opportunity, the use of available simulations is encouraged to better inform the campaign’s final design of the operational forecast system.  Recommendation 22 describes this model comparison activity more fully and presents three notional phases.  The goal of this comparison is to determine which features in each model are giving the best results, especially in view of the availability of large sets of data during the immediate post-Deepwater Horizon period.

Application Guidelines:
  • Responsiveness to consensus report: Applications should directly respond to the recommendations from the report Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current: Gaps and Recommendations, which are referenced in the "Applications Sought" section above. It is expected that applicants will refer to the consensus recommendations and associated text and fulfill the minimum requirements described therein.
  • Compatibility: Proposed plans should be compatible with extension and expansion into the planned decadal campaign. This solicitation is in support of 2-year projects; however, many of the observational recommendations are intended to be sustained for an additional 10 years of operation. Observational applications will undergo a mid-term review (after 1 year of operations); successful review may result in an initial extension through a 5-year contract with possibility for a second 5-year extension.
  • Data management: Applications should include an extensive data management component that, at minimum, meets requirements of the Gulf Research Program's data management policy. In addition, applicants responding to observational components of this RFA should include a plan for releasing data to the public within 6 months of collection, which is an expedited time frame from standard Gulf Research Program data management requirements, or in real-time, as applicable.

Details for this opportunity are still being finalized.

Coming soon:
Information on eligibility, application submission, application review, and making the awards.

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