NOAA reaffirms NGI as regional cooperative institute

A team of scientists from the Mississippi State-led Northern Gulf Institute prepare to launch a small unmanned plane to map vegetation in a Mississippi marsh.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday [July 15] announced it has selected Mississippi State University to host NOAA’s cooperative institute for the Gulf of Mexico region: the Northern Gulf Institute.

The Northern Gulf Institute, which has been a NOAA cooperative institute for the last decade, will lead a consortium that includes the University of Southern Mississippi, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The NOAA award comes with a commitment of $7 million for the first year of a five-year award that can be renewed for another five years based on successful performance. NOAA made its selection after an open competition prompted by the expiration of NGI’s current award this September. In its successful proposal, NGI has committed to expand its research to encompass the entire Gulf of Mexico region.

NOAA’s Cooperative Institute (CI) Program is a unique and powerful tool designed to address emerging research and development needs of NOAA’s mission.

“Our cooperative institutes provide real partnership, expertise and flexibility, which is very important in achieving NOAA’s mission,” said Craig McLean, NOAA’s assistant administrator for NOAA Research. “They provide a talented body of scientists, diverse thinking, and nimble responsiveness to our needs while helping to train the next generation of researchers.”

NGI will focus on research in four thematic areas to help create more resilient ecosystems, communities and economies for the region:

-- Climate change and climate variability effects on regional ecosystems

-- Coastal hazards

-- Ecosystem management

-- Effective and efficient data management systems to support a data-driven economy

NGI will address research gaps such as improving technologies to sample fish stocks in challenging environments, developing methods to improve large-scale data integration and dissemination, improving habitat restoration and coastal resiliency by determining the impacts of climate change on coastal areas, and studying how algal blooms affect ecosystem health.

As an example of NGI's work, NGI Director Robert Moorhead and a team of researchers have been launching unmanned aircraft from a small boat, so they can map marshes without dragging heavy equipment over the fragile landscapes.

The aerial images the team collected in 2015 helped determine what the conditions were like immediately following a large marsh fire along the Mississippi coast after a lightning strike.

“In less than one day, and during just two flights, we were able to map the entire 1,700 acre burn site at a 2-inch resolution ” Moorhead said.

Other data gathered by unmanned systems might potentially be used to improve flood forecasts and enhance the emergency response to chemical spills in remote areas.

“A small shed of tools and a small team of people can accomplish a lot of environmental science in a much shorter period of time using these unmanned technologies,” Moorhead said.

NOAA supports 16 cooperative institutes consisting of 42 universities and research institutions across 23 states and the District of Columbia. These research institutions provide strong educational programs that promote student and postdoctoral scientist involvement in NOAA-funded research. For more information on cooperative institutes, please go online to the NOAA Policy on Cooperative Institutes.

Alison Gillespie | NOAA Research Communications

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