By: Margaret Ann Macloud
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) welcomed Dr. Rick Spinrad, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as he received an update on the University’s extensive and growing oceanographic research. Officials from the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport also participated in the visit.
Under Secretary Spinrad toured the Marine Research Center, Gulf & Ship Island Building, and the location for the future Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise. NOAA will house its Uncrewed Maritime Operations in Gulfport through a long-term lease with USM. In Fiscal Year 2021, NOAA received $13.7 million from Congress to improve and expand Uncrewed Systems operations across the agency, including the creation of the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Uncrewed Systems Operations Center — a key goal of NOAA’s Uncrewed Systems Strategy.
A briefing on the University’s research and business partnerships in ocean enterprise was presented by Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations.
“Today was a great opportunity for Dr. Spinrad to get a first-hand look at our advanced research and development facilities benefiting the entire Gulf Coast region,” Lucas said. “Being able to co-locate NOAA with the University and other partners helps grow a unified team working toward common solutions. Today was also an opportunity for Dr. Spinrad to hear from his own team of NOAA leaders who are pleased with our mutual progress.”
Additionally, Dr. Shannon Campbell, USM Senior Associate Vice President for Coastal Operations, updated Spinrad on the University’s blue economy initiative, Gulf Blue.
“We shared specific examples about uncrewed maritime systems operations, precision aquaculture research, and joint workforce development initiatives. These efforts are positioning our Gulf Blue region to develop highly competent graduates, creating new discoveries, and developing advanced technologies,” Campbell said.
The University’s partnership with and presence at the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport provides federal, state and private entities with access to facilities situated at front door to the Gulf of Mexico, including the Marine Research Center and the future Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise.
Since the passage of the Commercial Engagement Through Ocean Technology (CENOTE) Act of 2018, authored by U.S. Senator Roger F. Wicker, new strategic partnerships have formed among USM, NOAA, Navy, and private-sector companies to advance innovations supporting commerce related to the blue economy.