A SURA Initiative To Create An Open-Access Distributed Scientific Laboratory


The southeastern United States is home to roughly 80 million people and encompasses more than half of the nation’s tidal shores. The region supports five naval bases, over a dozen major ports, essential commercial shipping and fishing enterprises, major oil and natural gas reserves, and thriving tourist industries. However, environmental and ecological concerns threaten the health and safety of the region’s inhabitants as well as the sustainability of its economies and marine resources. The region suffers from significant inputs of sediments and nutrients from rivers and chronic deficiencies of dissolved oxygen. Storms, hurricanes and other extreme events regularly challenge and endanger the coastal communities. There is an urgent need to improve our ability to predict critical coastal phenomena within the region on both short and long time scales.


SURA proposed the creation of an open-access network of distributed sensors and linked computer models for the southeastern coastal zone. This SURA initiative supported the national agenda to establish an integrated, sustained ocean observing system. Existing systems, including several in the SURA region, were not integrated and were not fully compatible. SURA’s Southeastern Coastal Ocean Observing Program (SCOOP) integrated and extended comparable observations from the Gulf of Mexico, the Southern Atlantic Bight (from Miami to Cape Hatteras), the Middle Atlantic Bight (from Cape Hatteras to Delaware), and the Chesapeake Bay. The network provided comprehensive coverage of the southeast and served as a key component of a larger national system.


The primary goal was to implement a comprehensive observing system that validated accurate and timely short- and long-term predictions. These predictions guided coastal stewardship, enabled planning for extreme events, facilitated safe and efficient maritime operations, and supported coastal military security. The network provided simultaneous measurements of winds, waves, currents, water density, nutrients, water quality, biological indices and fish stocks under all conditions. Open access to basic and analyzed data and linked numerical models was available in real-time and at high-speed through a SURA web portal.


When fully implemented, the coastal ocean of the entire southeastern region functioned as a single, tightly integrated laboratory, providing an unparalleled window to new scientific frontiers while addressing a host of immediate socioeconomic issues and applications.


To launch the proposed initiative, SURA obtained funding through the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The funds supported the articulation of the overall plan, building stakeholders’ involvement, and design and prototyping of sensors and related subsystems for high-speed telecommunications support.