A watchword for the Institution continues to be “diversify.” Our core research mission to understand the ocean invariably grows in complexity—the more we learn, the more questions we have, and as technology steadily increases our access to the ocean, our accumulation of data grows more rapidly. At the same time, however, the more we want to do, the less support our traditional government funding sources are able to offer, and the more expensive it becomes to simply maintain our current level of effort. Additional pressure comes from difficult choices we face in allocating our own resources; because much of our endowment is restricted, our options for its use are few.
Our new Center for Marine Robotics (CMR) is one such effort to diversify our funding, and also to translate the benefits of our research and technology to a wider user base. Robotic systems promise to open the ocean to humans in new ways. WHOI is a recognized leader in the research, development, and deployment of robotic and related systems. Recent advances in technology have the potential to improve or expand exploration, monitoring, and intervention in the ocean, from coastal waters to full ocean depth, and ranging from technologies operating under ice-covered ocean waters to complex underwater infrastructure. Robotic vehicles can improve efficiency, lower costs, and reduce the risks of marine operations while allowing scientists, industry, and the military to address problems in new ways and offer solutions unachievable by conventional means.
In its first nine months, CMR has enrolled academic partners and is working to secure major energy and technology industry sponsorship. Joining us in this strategic effort are academic partners Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Johns Hopkins University Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the University of Rhode Island Ocean Exploration Trust, and Draper Labs. The combined experience of this group enables CMR to offer their clients access to research and engineering talent in robotics, a field critical to their exploration and operations.
Major private foundations also helped us diversify funding in 2012. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded $5.6 million for projects in microbial biogeochemistry and for a follow-up study of radioactive contaminants in Japanese coastal waters following the Fukushima disaster. That investment has since led to planning for a new Center for Marine Environmental Radioactivity. In another example, the Dalio Foundation established a special endowment that will provide funding for WHOI researchers to gain access to the sea aboard the R/V Alucia, which will increase their opportunities to conduct research beyond the traditional academic research fleet.
We also made headway in identifying funding from a wider variety of government agencies. We established a new program with the National Marine Fisheries Service that will fund up to three research fellowships at WHOI in quantitative fisheries and ecosystems science. Our Center for Ocean and Human Health received new five-year funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to focus on novel instrumentation to rapidly detect, understand and predict harmful algal blooms (HABs), and to understand the potential health impacts of low level and chronic exposure to HAB toxins. We also received nearly $2 million from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology to monitor plankton, reef fish, and coral communities using OceanCube observatories developed at WHOI.
We will continue on this tack to funding diversity in the coming years. Even as the national economy recovers, the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies that have long supported ocean science will continue to face more competing priorities and perhaps more intrusive oversight, and the likelihood of less flexibility to promote fundamental research. As always, WHOI will adapt, and we will thrive.
Last updated: October 1, 2013