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NOAA Support of the Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II

Article and Figures Provided By ORTA/UxSRTO Team

Figure 1: Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II (CCME-II) scholars and NOAA staff participate in a Center-Wide Core Competency Course (CWCC) at the Florida Institute of Oceanography (Photo Credit: NOAA).

NOAA’s Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II (CCME-II) is a program dedicated to recruiting, educating, training, and graduating the next generation of scientists, particularly from underrepresented communities, in NOAA-mission aligned STEM disciplines. The program, funded by the NOAA Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI), equips students with the skills necessary to take interdisciplinary approaches in addressing issues facing marine and coastal communities.

Every other year, CCME-II scholars participate in a Center-Wide Core Competency Course (CWCC) to gain an overview of practices and approaches used in integrated science in support of coastal resource management. This year, CWCC had two phases, the first being a virtual course taken online and the second being a weeklong in-person event from July 16-20, 2023 at the Florida Institute of Oceanography in St. Petersburg, Florida. CWCC allowed the scholars to examine and review the CCME-II thematic areas that are aligned with NOAA’s mission, complete hands-on field activities, and gain a deeper understanding of social science integration with coastal science research and policy. They also had the opportunity to engage with a variety of NOAA offices and scientists to learn more about potential career paths in NOAA-mission aligned disciplines .

NOAA’s Office of Research, Transition, and Application (ORTA) and Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (UxSRTO) has been engaged with CCME-II through ongoing outreach activities to broaden diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of Uncrewed Systems (UxS). ORTA and UxSRTO assisted in organizing a session of the CWCC, with support from EPP/MSI, that focused on NOAA’s use of UxS, which included various presentations and a drone demonstration.

Figure 2 (Left): Ken Vierra and Mary Solokas present to CCME-II scholars and (Right): CCME-II scholars listening to presentations during CWCC (Photo credit: NOAA).

Kenneth Vierra (ORTA) and Mary Solokas (UxSRTO) presented on the vast potential of UxS, where they detailed ongoing and future UxS projects (Figure 2). NOAA scientist Wayne Wright of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) detailed his and Rick Stumpf’s (also NCCOS) recent work on the rapid detection of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in littoral waters using uncrewed aerial systems (UAS).  LTJG Justin Blancher of NOAA’s UxS Operations Center discussed the operational side of UxS in NOAA, as well as the path to joining the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (Figure 3). The scholars asked thoughtful and interesting questions throughout the presentations which spurred an engaging discussion.

Figure 3 (Left): Wayne Wright explains a project using uncrewed aircrafts to detect HABs and (Right): LTJG Justin Blancher talks about NOAA operations and the NOAA Corps (Photo Credit: NOAA).

Following the presentations, the scholars had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with NOAA staff members about their aspirations and career interests (Figure 4). They were enthusiastic and energetic, asking follow up questions about UxS projects and potential career paths. Wayne Wright also set up a tabletop demonstration of the groundbreaking small drone HABs detector. The HABs UxS project perfectly aligned with this year’s CWCC Place Based Learning Activity (i.e. keystone project for the scholars), which was to evaluate previous mitigation efforts on the impacts of HABs on ecosystems while communicating risks to stakeholders and shaping pertinent policies.

Figure 4: NOAA Staff talk one-on-one with the scholars following the presentations (Photo Credit: NOAA).

The following day, the scholars (Figure 5) observed a demonstration of uncrewed systems from Vern Shurtz, who is a highly experienced Remote Pilot and Instructor with the Trusted Operator Program (TOP) from the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a UxSRTO partner.

Figure 5: CCME-II CWCC at the Florida Institute of Oceanography July 16-20, 2023 (Photo Credit: Vern Shurtz).

Vern discussed the wide variety of opportunities available to the CCME-II scholars in the drone industry, such as AUVSI, the Trusted Operator Program, and UAS use-cases, in addition to explaining why training and certification for UAS operators is important (Figure 6).

Figure 6 (Left & Right): Vern Shurtz discussing UxS for the CCME-II scholars. (Photo Credit: Dr. Richard Long/FAMU).

Vern also provided a demonstration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) small UAS Open Test lane, which evaluates five different flight paths to demonstrate maneuverability and payload functionality of small UAS (Figure 7, Left). He exhibited various UAS, Uncrewed Surface Vehicles, and Remotely Operated Vehicles (Figure 7, Right).

Figure 7 (Left): Demonstration of the NIST sUAS Open Test lane and (Right): CCME-II scholars checking out various UAS, Uncrewed Surface Vehicles, and Remotely Operated Vehicles for underwater research (Photo Credit: Vern Shurtz).