The United States has jurisdiction over 3.4 million square miles of ocean in its exclusive economic zone, a size exceeding the combined land area of the 50 states. This expansive marine area represents a prime national domain for activities such as maritime transportation, national security, energy and mineral extraction, fisheries and aquaculture, and tourism and recreation. However, it also carries with it the threat of damaging tsunamis and hurricanes, industrial accidents, and outbreaks of waterborne pathogens. The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami are vivid reminders that ocean activities and processes have direct human implications both nationally and worldwide, understanding of the ocean system is still incomplete, and ocean research infrastructure is needed to support both fundamental research and societal priorities.
In 2004, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, called for “a renewed commitment to ocean science and technology” to realize the benefits of the ocean while ensuring its sustainability for future generations. Since the release of the Commission’s report, federal agencies have been working together through the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (SOST), which has the mandate to identify research priorities, facilitate coordination of ocean research, and develop ocean technology and infrastructure. This study was initiated to assist SOST in planning for the nation’s ocean research infrastructure needs in 2030 by identifying major research questions anticipated to be at the forefront of ocean science in 2030, defining categories of infrastructure that should be included in next-generation planning, providing advice on criteria that could be used to set priorities for asset development or replacement, recommending ways in which the federal agencies could maximize the value of ocean infrastructure investments, and addressing societal issues. It is also intended to complement efforts in support of the National Ocean Council, which was established to implement the National Ocean Policy outlined in the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force (Executive Order 13547, July 19, 2010).
Ocean research infrastructure supports both fundamental and applied scientific research that addresses urgent societal concerns such as climate change, human health, domestic offshore energy production, national security, marine shipping, tsunami detection and severe storm tracking, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture growth, and changes in marine ecosystem services. However, significant components of national infrastructure are aged, obsolete, or insufficient to meet growing societal demand for scientific information to enable safe, efficient, and environmentally sustainable use of the ocean. A comprehensive range of ocean research infrastructure will be needed to overcome these challenges, and more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research will require a growing suite of infrastructure. Current institutional barriers have inhibited collaborative efforts among federal agencies to plan for the operation and maintenance of major, high-cost, critical infrastructure assets such as ships, satellites, and global observing systems.
Recommendation: Federal ocean agencies should establish and maintain a coordinated national strategic plan for critical shared ocean infrastructure investment, maintenance, and retirement. Such a plan should focus on trends in scientific needs and advances in technology, while taking into consideration life-cycle costs, efficient use, surge capacity for unforeseen events, and new opportunities or national needs. The plan should be based upon a set of known priorities and updated through periodic reviews.
SETTING PRIORITIES AND MAXIMIZING INVESTMENTS
Prioritization of ocean infrastructure investments involves choosing optimal combinations of assets within certain budget constraints to maximize benefits. The committee
devised criteria that could be used to help federal agencies and others develop a prioritization scheme. These criteria encompass a wide range of issues, including whether specific infrastructure can help address multiple scientific questions or needs; data quality and continuity; future technology trends; balance between risk and benefit; and national strategic or economic importance. From an economic viewpoint, this type of prioritization needs to acknowledge uncertainties regarding the ability of future ocean science research to produce information relevant to critical ocean-related societal issues.
Recommendation: Development, maintenance, or replacement of ocean research infrastructure assets should be prioritized based on (1) usefulness for addressing important science questions; (2) affordability, efficiency, and longevity; and (3) ability to contribute to other missions or applications. Such prioritization will maximize societal benefit for the nation.
Federal agencies can optimize investments in ocean research infrastructure by following a number of best practices: effectively and efficiently managing existing resources; providing broad access to data, information, and facilities; fostering collaboration at multiple organizational levels; facilitating the successful transition of infrastructure from research to operational use; and ensuring the next generation of ocean science infrastructure. A coordinated, adaptable, long-term strategy for usage of shared, federally funded infrastructure assets, with possibilities to include locally and state-funded infrastructure, and periodic reviews of ocean infrastructure are needed to fully capitalize on investments made by individual agencies.
Recommendation: National shared ocean research infrastructure should be reviewed on a regular basis (every 5-10 years) for responsiveness to evolving scientific needs, cost effectiveness, data accessibility and quality, timely delivery of services, and ease of use in order to ensure optimal federal investment across a full range of ocean science research and societal needs.
MAJOR RESEARCH QUESTIONS IN 2030
The committee identified four major themes that are of compelling interest to society and that will drive scientific research for the next two decades: enabling stewardship of the environment, protecting life and property, promoting economic vitality, and increasing fundamental scientific understanding. Utilizing strategic planning documents, current literature, and community input, the committee converged upon 32 major research questions that they anticipate will be at the forefront of scientific and societal importance in 2030. The scientific questions that will drive research in 2030 are rich and diverse and are of compelling interest to society. The importance of these questions demands continued investment in ocean research infrastructure. In order to address the most important and societally relevant questions, U.S. ocean research infrastructure will be required to serve a broad set of needs. Many of these questions are presently relevant in 2010 but are not simple issues that will result in solutions with a few more years of intensive effort. Instead, they reflect challenging scientific problems that will likely take decades to solve, especially if only limited resources are available. These include the need for a global observational framework with sustained ability to monitor change in the ocean and enhance prediction of the coupled ocean-atmosphere system, a capability to focus on process studies that improve understanding, a focus on environmentally sensitive regions or areas of national security, and the flexibility to deploy infrastructure during events or emergencies.
OCEAN INFRASTRUCTURE CATEGORIES
In this report, U.S. ocean research infrastructure is defined as “the full portfolio of platforms, sensors, data sets and systems, models, supporting personnel, facilities, and enabling organizations that the nation can bring to bear to answer questions about the ocean, and that is (or could be) shared by or accessible to the ocean research community as a whole.” The committee focused on ocean research infrastructure that could be considered community-wide or shared assets, in that they are available to the ocean science community as a whole. The wide array of infrastructure assets currently in use and needed for 2030 include mobile and fixed platforms, in situ sensors and sampling, remote sensing and modeling, and data management and communications. In addition, enabling organizations will be necessary to foster technology innovation and to help train the future ocean science workforce.
An examination of trends revealed that, in the past two decades, the use of floats, gliders, remotely operated vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, and scientific seafloor cables has increased; the use of ships, drifters, moorings, and towed platforms has remained stable; and the use of human occupied vehicles has declined. Based on these trends and on the major science questions for 2030, it is anticipated that utilization and capabilities for floats, gliders, remotely operated vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, submarine scientific cables, and moorings will continue to increase significantly for the next 20 years. Ships will continue to be an essential component of ocean research infrastructure; however, the increasing use of autonomous and unmanned assets will broaden the demands for a wide range of ship capabilities. Many sensor capabilities have increased: longevity, stability, data communications, adaptability, and access to harsh environments. These improvements are mostly dependent on innovations occurring outside the ocean science field, and the oceanographic community will continue
to benefit from innovations in sensor and other technologies across many fields.
Recommendation: To ensure that the United States has the capacity in 2030 to undertake and benefit from knowledge and innovations possible with oceanographic research, the nation should
Implement a comprehensive, long-term research fleet plan to retain access to the sea.
Recover U.S. capability to access fully and partially ice-covered seas.
Expand abilities for autonomous monitoring at a wide range of spatial and temporal scales with greater sensor and platform capabilities.
Enable sustained, continuous time-series measurements.
Maintain continuity of satellite remote sensing and communication capabilities for oceanographic data and sustain plans for new satellite platforms, sensors, and communication systems.
Support continued innovation in ocean infrastructure development. Of particular note is the need to develop in situ sensors, especially biogeochemical sensors.
Engage allied disciplines and diverse fields to leverage technological developments outside oceanography.
Increase the number and capabilities of broadly accessible computing and modeling facilities with exascale or petascale capability that are dedicated to future oceanographic needs.
Establish broadly accessible virtual (distributed) data centers that have seamless integration of federal, state, and locally held databases, accompanying metadata compliant with proven standards, and intuitive archiving and synthesizing tools.
Examine and adopt proven data management practices from allied disciplines.
Facilitate broad community access to infrastructure assets, including mobile and fixed platforms and costly analytical equipment.
Expand interdisciplinary education and promote a technically skilled workforce.