The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today announced the award of $22 million to support three consortia that will undertake the third phase of the Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems (UGOS) program. The five-year program, which began March 1, builds on a foundation of knowledge established during the program’s first two phases.

During this third phase (UGOS-3), the three consortia will work collaboratively to apply existing and emerging data to improve operational forecasting of the Gulf of Mexico ocean dynamics, including the Loop Current and its eddies. Enhanced predictions of these currents and eddies will help avoid risky conditions for oil drilling and production, thereby reducing risks to offshore workers. They will also help improve oil spill response, weather forecasting, and the sustainable management of the Gulf’s rich fisheries resources.

Deep and fast-moving, the Loop Current is of interest to industry and weather forecasters, as well as to the scientific community due to sometimes unpredictable changes in its velocity, temperature, and position. Its deep, warm eddies can supply heat to tropical storms moving over them, allowing the storms to rapidly intensify. This was apparently the case last year when Hurricane Ida quickly grew from a Category 1 to a Category 4 hurricane before it made landfall. Further, if the Loop Current had behaved differently during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it could have pushed oil beyond the Gulf, causing damage to a much larger area. 

Scientists from universities throughout the Gulf region and from other prominent oceanographic research institutions in the U.S. and Mexico will bring together satellite measurements and data collected from advanced instruments that are drifting, gliding, or moored in the Gulf.  This includes the most comprehensive observations of ocean water moving from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf through the Yucatan Strait, a critical entry point located between Mexico and Cuba. The UGOS-3 teams will work together to incorporate all these observations into sophisticated computer models to advance understanding and forecasting skill. They will work closely with organizations that provide operational forecasts for the offshore industry and in federal agencies, including the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“One of the Gulf Research Program’s core priorities is to make data-rich scientific information available to decision-makers in the Gulf,” said Donald F. Boesch, National Academies senior scholar. “I am confident that our UGOS program will result in major advances in the practical use of scientific understanding of the highly dynamic Gulf of Mexico and how it is changing in our warming world.”

“Thanks to the incredible and ongoing work from the UGOS investigators, we have a solid foundation of knowledge on the Loop Current — with more new data and discoveries happening every day,” said Michael Feldman, GRP senior program officer. “The UGOS-3 researchers will build on that understanding to have a lasting impact on forecasting accuracy and capability, supporting both end users and the communities that live and rely on the Gulf of Mexico.”

Listed in alphabetical order by project title, the UGOS-3 projects are:

Advancing Gulf of Mexico Operational Forecasting with Application to Fisheries, Industry Safety, and Natural Hazards (GOFFISH)
Award Amount:
Project Director: Eric Chassignet, Florida State University
Overview: This project aims to achieve measurable and significant improvements in short- to medium-range (1-10 day), subseasonal, and long-range (3-6 month) prediction skill of ocean forecast models. There are three primary objectives: improve the data assimilation for NOAA, U.S. Navy, and industry models; provide improved forecasts and knowledge of full water column currents; and apply improvements to hurricane forecasts and fisheries management.

An Operational System Using Real-time Subsurface Observations to Improve Loop Current Forecasts
Award Amount:
Project Director: Amy Bower, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Overview: This project focuses on improving Loop Current system forecasts. The project includes four major efforts: deployment of Argo floats, deployment of minimal real-time mooring array in the Yucatan Channel, development of an operational topographic monitoring and forecast system for Rossby waves (also known as planetary waves), and improvement of an existing ensemble forecast model.

Gulf Consortium for Offshore Risk Reduction Engaging Stakeholders (GulfCORES)
Award Amount:
Project Director: Steven DiMarco, Texas A&M University
Overview: GulfCORES has two primary foci: 1) to complement and enhance the modeling and observational capabilities by providing adaptive sampling observations from glider, float, and drifter platforms and 2) to actively engage stakeholders and industry to ensure sustainable transitions to operations that support end-users. GulfCORES will execute an observational program to support numerical modeling; and develop a plan to incorporate study outputs into existing operational NRL/NOAA/industry activities.

The National Academies’ Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis. Visit to learn more.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

Dana Korsen, Director of Media Relations
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