5 Leading Institutions In The Field Of Ocean Research

The oceans have enormous importance for all of Earth's ecological and climatic systems, yet there is still much about them that humankind doesn't understand. Research organizations around the globe seek to expand our knowledge of the seas, and to find solutions to the environmental threats they face. The following institutions and companies, laid out in no particular order, are striving to learn more about the world's waters and the life they contain.

Leading us off at #1 is the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, dedicated to seeking solutions for the ecological and economic problems facing the Gulf of Mexico. The organization's interdisciplinary approach includes diverse focus areas such as HydroEcology, Socio-Economics, and Marine Policy and Law. HRI's researchers produce resources such as BlueValue, a searchable database of ecosystem service valuations, and the Freshwater Inflows tool, which provides ecological information to policymakers.

Projects from HRI include ecosystem monitoring, habitat restoration, and efforts to adapt to the impact of climate change. The Institute helps to forge collaborations like the Trinational Initiative, a joint research and policy project between the United States, Mexico, and Cuba, and its Gulf Report Card framework, which communicates environmental health information to the public. Student Fellowships and other financial aid resources offer funding for those interested in working with HRI.

Next on the list is #2, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, which aims to advance scientific and societal understanding of the seas. The Consortium manages and supports research endeavors that explore deep-water ecosystems, examine the repercussions of petroleum pollution, and monitor the health of the planet's waters. With events like the Marine Geoscience Leadership Symposium, COL brings researchers from around the world together to share knowledge and forge interdisciplinary collaborations.

COL's National Ocean Sciences Bowl introduces students and educators to marine science as an interdisciplinary field of study, through a variety of learning and mentoring experiences culminating in a knowledge-testing competition. Other outreach programs include In Search of Earth’s Secrets, a STEM learning experience for under-served communities, and the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative, which produces research-based public policy recommendations.

Entry #3 is the Ocean Observatories Initiative, a global-scale integrated infrastructure program collecting marine data for research purposes. The organization deploys and maintains a variety of instruments that provide real-time monitoring of conditions across the world, ranging from the temperature of vents on the seafloor to the velocity of winds on the surface. A diverse array of communications devices transmit information from the sensors to the internet, making it available for public use.

Data collection from the OOI's arrays has enabled important insights into underwater volcanic activity, marine species diversity, and the circulation of heat within the oceans, among many other areas of study. The program's ongoing monitoring makes it possible to observe long-term ecological patterns like changes in whale song volume or seasonal variations in ocean surface temperatures. The Initiative has developed tools to help researchers make use of its data, including deep-sea time-lapse videos and photographic catalogs of underwater fauna.

Coming in at #4 is Saildrone, a company that designs and manufactures wind- and solar-powered autonomous surface vehicles for cost-effective ocean data collection. Its Mission-as-a-Service model gives researchers access to a global fleet of unmanned observation platforms to conduct wildlife surveys, mapping expeditions, investigations of air-sea interactions, and other scientific endeavors. The information collected is transmitted via satellite to a secure web portal, enabling real-time-tracking and control.

The standard sensor array of a Saildrone provides diverse capabilities including object detection and sonar seafloor mapping, while optional instruments enable specialized applications like oil spill detection. The company's Data Explorer makes large volumes of scientific information available to the public, and each year it awards free data collection capacity to an organization performing important environmental research. Saildrone also offers a weather forecast app driven by information from its global drone fleet.

Wrapping up our list is #5, Future Oceans Lab, a group of researchers investigating ways to help marine systems adapt to the effects of climate change. The team's work examines the connections between ecology, society, and institutions, to help communities develop strategies for managing aquatic ecosystems for long-term sustainability. FOL investigates research topics like the economic and environmental impacts of small-scale fisheries, and the climate vulnerability of various regions of the world.

Through efforts like the PERCEBES initiative, FOL works to identify techniques that conserve oceanic resources while preserving the livelihoods of fishing communities. Other projects work to quantify the financial value of healthy ecosystems, or to demonstrate the economic benefits of sustainable fisheries management. The MPA-ENGAGE initiative focuses on outreach, using in-person training events and educational webinars to spur development of climate change adaptation plans.