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:
|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
||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
||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 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.
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.
Over its 20 year history NURP has
maintained an impeccable safety record.
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
Over the past 20 years, NURP has improved NOAA's understanding
of marine, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. Strategic research
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.