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NURP missionMission Beneath the Sea
NOAA's Undersea Research Program (NURP) is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR). NOAA is the federal agency charged with stewardship of our Nation's living marine and coastal resources.

As the federal agency responsible for managing living marine and coastal resources, NOAA requires a presence beneath the sea and Great Lakes to better understand the systems under its management. NURP provides NOAA with the unique ability to access the undersea environment either directly with submersibles and technical diving, or virtually using robots and seafloor observatories.

NURP provides scientists with the tools and expertise they need to investigate the undersea environment, including submersibles, remotely operated vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, mixed gas diving gear, underwater laboratories and observatories, and other cutting edge technologies. NURP also provides extramural grants to both the federal and non-federal research community through its six regional centers and the National Institute of Undersea Science and Technology, while assisting scientists in acquiring data and observations that provide the information necessary to address a variety of NOAA's priority goals, including:

NOAA Priority NURP Response
Protect, restore, and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management NURP conducts research targeted at the information needs of resource managers responsible for corals, fisheries, protected areas, and other seafloor ecosystems (More Info)
Understand climate variability and change to enhance society's ability to plan and respond NURP conducts research to describe past climate and climate change using underwater paleoceanographic data; and to understand the role of gas hydrates in global and regional climate and the carbon cycle.
Environmental Literacy, Outreach, and Education NURP provides information to enrich science and math education and public awareness of the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.
Sound, State-of-the-Art Research NURP uses advanced underwater technologies such as human occupied submersibles, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and advanced diving techniques, to allow scientists to observe, sample, and conduct experiments underwater
Homeland Security NURP can advise, develop, and transfer advanced undersea technologies to security agencies. Most recently, NURP trained the U.S. Coast Guard on the use of ROVs for hull inspections.
NURP regions

NURP Regional Network
NURP is comprised of six regional Centers and one National Institute. NURP is primarily an extramural program (outside NOAA) located at major universities with a small headquarters staff located at NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. This extramural network facilitates collaborations between NOAA and other external programs and leverages external funds and infrastructure to assist NOAA resource managers in meeting their information needs.

undersea technologies
Safely Advancing Underwater Technologies

NURP has helped sustain U.S. leadership in ocean technology through development and application of advanced underwater technologies that enable researchers to observe, sample, and understand the ocean at wider and finer time and space scales. These technologies include the Alvin and Pisces IV and V deep submergence vehicles; the U.S. Navy's NR-1 nuclear submarine; NOAA's Aquarius, the world's only underwater laboratory; the LEO-15 Observatory; Kraken, Jason II, MBARI's Ventana and Tiburon, and other remotely operated vehicles; advanced technical diving to 100 m; and a variety of other data gathering and mapping technologies.


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Over its 20 year history NURP has maintained an impeccable safety record.

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NURP Research Provides Answers
Each year, NURP supports over 100 undersea research projects related to NOAA's mission as steward of living marine and coastal resources. NURP science support has resulted in a number of projects, operations, and publications, as evidenced in the following table.

Five year summary of NURP dive operations, projects and publications
Subs ROVs SCUBA Participants Institutions Projects Publications
1,063 1,334 53,461 4,169 1,041 539 516

Over the past 20 years, NURP has improved NOAA's understanding of marine, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Strategic research results include:fishermen

  • Determined impacts of trawling and other fishing gear types on seafloor essential fish habitats. Results improved fisheries management and contributed to the recent Pew Oceans report on fishing gear impacts.
  • Contributed to new national effort to design and establish protected areas. Results will help restore fish stocks in continental shelf areas around the country.
  • Defined essential fish habitat for several species of economically important fish and shellfish. Results have contributed to regional Fishery Management Plans for many fish stocks.
  • Devised new and better (e.g., nondestructive) methods to improve stock assessments and reduce by-catch of non-target species.
deepwater corals and anemones
  • Led the nation in groundbreaking research on factors affecting coral reef health, such as coral bleaching, water quality, overfishing, and climate change. Results have helped conserve, restore, and sustain healthy reef ecosystems that contribute billions annually in economic benefits.
  • Supported research to better understand deep-sea corals, including their dispersal, genetics, associated fauna and fish.
chemosythetic organisms
  • First federal program to identify and describe frozen methane hydrates exposed at the seafloor. Results of subsequent research have shown methane hydrates to be extreme ecosystems with potential as a future energy source and a possible factor in affecting global climate and the carbon cycle.
  • Partnered with the National Science Foundation and the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service to better understand life at deep-sea chemosynthetic communities located at seafloor vents and seeps.
  • Leader in investigating coastal earthquake and tsunami hazards through investigation of submarine fault systems and undersea landslides.
  • Discovered, sampled, and analyzed novel bio-compounds for developing marine natural products for biomedical and commercial applications to benefit society.
  • Developed innovative educational programs to provide hands-on learning opportunities for teachers and students using underwater vehicles and data from seafloor observatories.
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NOAA's Undersea Research Program
1315 East-West Highway, R/NURP - Silver Spring, MD 20910
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Updated: January 18, 2005