Witnesses Support NOAA Ocean Research and Exploration Bill


WASHINGTON - Two leading ocean scientists today endorsed H.R. 3835, the National Ocean Exploration Program Act and Undersea Research Program Act, at a hearing of the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards.

The bill would codify two existing programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that fund basic and applied marine research. The programs are the NOAA Undersea Research Program (NURP) and the Ocean Exploration Program. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ); it is a companion to S. 39, which has passed the Senate.

"Ocean Exploration helps us define the scope and scale of marine environments and gives us proper context within which to ask the best scientific and policy questions," said Subcommittee Chairman Vern Ehlers (R-MI). "NURP gives scientists the specialized technical support they need to fill the gap between basic marine science and the more applied science and information needs of policy makers and resource managers around the country."

Testifying at the hearing, Saxton said, "Although our dependence on healthy marine ecosystems continues to grow, ocean exploration and undersea research remain a relatively minor component of U.S. ocean science and is a missing link in our national strategy to better understand the Earth's environment."

NURP funds six regional centers that develop and support marine research technologies, such as undersea laboratories, remotely operated vehicles, and deep water submarines. The Ocean Exploration program funds exploration missions to study and map poorly understood regions of the oceans and to better understand fundamental biochemical and geologic processes. Both programs also support a wide range of education and outreach projects.

Dr. Richard Spinrad, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at NOAA, said that "NOAA supports the intent of H.R. 3835 to establish a coordinated national ocean exploration program by building on the current capability within NOAA." Spinrad added, "This legislation would elevate the importance of science-based ocean exploration, and undersea technology development as a vital national activity and strengthen federal efforts to pursue and support it. H.R. 3835 recognizes the critical components of NOAA's current ocean exploration activities, including the development of new undersea technologies, outreach, and education."

The bill was endorsed by Mr. Andrew Shepard, Director of the National Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He stressed that consistent funding for research is necessary in order to move forward. "The bill addresses the major weakness of the [NURP and OE] programs-under-funding and instability of funding;" Shepard said. "We seek to support cutting edge science projects using advanced technologies, wielded by the top scientists and technologists in the nation. Trying to accomplish this goal on a year-to-year uncertain funding cycle has been our major weakness." Shepard concluded, "H.R. 3835 lays the groundwork for a credible long-lasting program of science, technology development, and ocean literacy."

Dr. Marcia K. McNutt, President and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, also expressed her support for H.R. 3835. "With a healthy and vigorous Ocean Exploration program, the Nation benefits from policy makers and citizens so inspired by the wonders and mysteries of the ocean that they insist on the acquisition and application of state of the art knowledge and understanding of the oceans for informed ocean management," said Dr. McNutt. Commenting on the need for scientific data to be shared among different research communities, Dr. McNutt said that "[T]he interagency task force established in H.R. 3835 will facilitate the sharing of discoveries with other parties who would be more likely to follow them up." McNutt continued, "It is a big ocean out there, and H.R. 3835 does a credible job of ramping up the OE budget authorization."

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