Scripps Oceanography Researcher Receives NAS Gulf Research Program Award

The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced today the recipients of nine data synthesis grants, totaling more than $4.4 million, including an award to Professor John Hildebrand and postdoctoral scholar Kaitlin Frasier of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

These grants are designed to support activities that synthesize existing data for one of two purposes: 1) to inform efforts to restore and maintain the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem services, or 2) to enhance understanding of the Deep Gulf or its physical and biological connectivity to coastal communities.

The two-year grants support activities that integrate or synthesize existing data from different sources that, analyzed together, may provide additional insights, address important questions, or lead to new approaches to interpreting and monitoring data. The research supported by these grants could increase understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system, lead to better-informed decision making, translate into human benefits, or foster other actionable outcomes.

“These projects will add value to earlier investments in monitoring while improving our understanding of Gulf of Mexico ecosystems and communities,” said Gulf Research Program senior program officer Evonne Tang. The proposals were selected after an external peer-review process.

Details of the Scripps Oceanography award:

Project Director: John Hildebrand, PhD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Kaitlin Frasier, PhD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Integrating visual and acoustic data on cetacean abundance and habitat in Gulf of Mexico deep water– $451,000

Protected species in the deep ocean, such as dolphins and whales, require monitoring for management and conservation purposes. In response to the need for improved monitoring, the project team will integrate temporally rich acoustic survey data and spatially rich visual survey data of whales and dolphins from the Gulf of Mexico and develop habitat models. These models could inform the development of new conservation and management strategies — particularly after events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This work will be conducted in collaboration with the Southeast Fisheries Science Center of NOAA and Duke University.

“The motivation for this work was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the project will also advance methods for studying marine mammals by combining both acoustic and visual methods for population assessment—methods that can be applied in other settings,” said Hildebrand.

Hildebrand’s research includes data from instruments developed at Scripps Oceanography known as High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages, or HARPs, underwater microphones that sit on the seafloor to passively collect recordings of marine animals.

Other award recipients include:

Project Director: Patrick D. Biber, PhD, University of Southern Mississippi

Wei Wu, PhD, and Gregory Alan Carter, PhD, University of Southern Mississippi

Deepak Mishra, Ph.D., University of Georgia

Understanding the trajectory of coastal salt marsh structure, function, and processes in the face of sea-level rise: A synthesis from historical imagery, biophysical processes, and hierarchical modeling – $507,000

Coastal wetlands in the northern Gulf of Mexico are vulnerable to degradation by natural and human-induced environmental changes. The project researchers plan to combine historical aerial photography and satellite imagery with analyses of wetland fragmentation and other biophysical and biogeochemical data to improve predictions of the health and productivity of coastal wetlands. The products of this research are expected to inform plans for marsh preservation, restoration, and the future viability of the ecosystem services provided by coastal marshes to human communities.


Project Director: Allan J. Clarke, PhD, Florida State University

The transport of oil to the coast in the top centimeter of the water column – $433,000

Without a reliable estimate of surface-level flow, predictions of the movement of oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico and where and when it will reach the coast are inaccurate.  Theory suggests that the surface flow can differ considerably from the flow at even half a meter depth.  This project will use drift card data collected by the Gulf Integrated Spill Response Consortium during 2013 and 2014, together with measurements of winds, waves, and state-of-the-art numerical models, to improve the reliability of surface-flow estimates and advance understanding of the connectivity between the deep Gulf and coastal waters.


Project Director: Kenneth L. Heck Jr., PhD, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Dorothy Byron David, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Judy Haner, The Nature Conservancy

Jonathan H. Grabowski, Ph.D., Steven B. Scyphers, Ph.D., and Matthias Ruth, Ph.D., Northeastern University

Living shorelines: Synthesizing the results of a decade of implementation in coastal Alabama – $469,000

Restoration of coastal habitats has proceeded rapidly over the last two decades and will likely accelerate in light of the civil settlement stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With opportune timing, the project research team plans to synthesize data that capture biological and physical effects of living shorelines with data from companion socio-economic studies to fully evaluate the benefits of living shoreline projects across coastal Alabama. The research is expected to contribute insights into the performance and efficacy of the different environmental restoration strategies being applied across the Gulf region.


Project Director: Jennifer A. Horney, Ph.D., MPH, CPH, Texas A&M University Health Science Center

Tiffany A. Radcliff, Ph.D., and Hongwei Zhao, Sc.D., Texas A&M University Health Science Center

Utilizing secondary data to assess the health and health system impacts of natural and technological disasters in the Gulf – $181,000

Socially vulnerable groups who live in hazard-prone coastal areas such as the Gulf Coast are disproportionally at risk from both natural and technological disasters such as oil spills.  The project researchers plan to integrate publically available federal data and individual medical claims data in order to conduct a large-scale evaluation of the effects of disasters on the health status and health system utilization of Medicare beneficiaries living in coastal Gulf communities. Such efforts could help policymakers anticipate risks posed by future disasters and help enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities.


Project Director: Kai Lorenzen, Ph.D., University of Florida

Charles M. Adams, Ph.D., Robert Ahrens, Ph.D., Micheal S. Allen, Ph.D., Edward Camp, Ph.D., Jynessa Dutka-Gianelli, Ph.D., Sherry L. Larkin, Ph.D., William E. Pine III, Ph.D., and Juliane Struve, Ph.D., University of Florida

Luiz R. Barbieri, Ph.D., Susan K. Lowerre-Barbieri, Ph.D., and Michael D. Murphy, Ph.D., Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

James M. Tolan, Ph.D., Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Synthesizing spatial dynamics of recreational fish and fisheries to inform restoration strategies: Red drum in the Gulf of Mexico – $480,000

Healthy recreational fisheries in the Gulf are important economic and environmental indicators of coastal communities’ well-being, but these fisheries are vulnerable to disturbances such as oil spills. The project team plans to synthesize diverse data sets from monitoring programs and research projects in an effort to develop an integrated, social-ecological systems model for the red drum fishery that can be applied to potential restoration strategies. The team's work could advance management strategies applied to other coastal recreational fisheries across the nation.


Project Director: Katherine Mansfield, Ph.D., Department of Biology, University of Central Florida

Erin E. Seney, Ph.D., Department of Biology, University of Central Florida

Nathan F. Putman, Ph.D., Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami

Quantifying environmental and anthropogenic drivers of sea turtle distribution and abundance in the Gulf of Mexico – $494,000

Biological connectivity can facilitate the propagation of impacts due to environmental and anthropogenic stressors from local to regional scales, posing significant challenges for ecosystem management and protection of species. To address these challenges and to help guide the management and protection of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico, the project research team plans to synthesize sea turtle distribution and abundance data with key oceanographic data to advance our understanding of how human activities influence the distribution and abundance of mobile marine species.


Project Director: Steven Morey, Ph.D., Florida State University

Amy S. Bower, Ph.D., Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Eric P. Chassignet, Ph.D., Dmitry S. Dukhovskoy, Ph.D., Cathrine Hancock, Ph.D., and Kevin Speer, Ph.D., Florida State University

Bruce D. Cornuelle, Ph.D., and Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Kathleen A. Donohue, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island

Peter Hamilton, Ph.D., Leidos Corp.

João Marcos Azevedo Correia De Souza, Ph.D., and Enric Pallàs Sanz, Ph.D., Centro de Investigacion Cientifica y de Educacion Superior de Ensenada

Ashwanth Srinivasan, Ph.D., Tendral LLC

Synthesis of historical observations using novel model approaches to improve understanding and predictability of deep Gulf of Mexico circulation – $897,000

Understanding of the physical processes that control the deep circulation in the Gulf of Mexico is a fundamental goal for improving the characterization and prediction of the deep water environment.  Project researchers will synthesize a mix of historical observations with new models to better understand the unique currents that flow through the deep Gulf of Mexico.  Findings are expected to improve forecasting methodologies critical for safe design and operation of offshore oil and gas infrastructure, as well as improve our predictive capabilities for the transport of deep water organisms and contaminants.


Project Director: Michael R. Roman, Ph.D., University of Maryland

James J. Pierson, Ph.D., University of Maryland

Stephan B. Brandt, Ph.D., Oregon State University

Improved understanding of the northern Gulf of Mexico pelagic ecosystem: Integration, synthesis, and modeling of high-resolution zooplankton and fish data – $504,000

Zooplankton and small fish provide the foundation for commercially and recreationally important fish species in the Gulf of Mexico, but their limited mobility makes them particularly vulnerable to impaired environmental conditions.  Project researchers will build upon a variety of models to assess potential responses of zooplankton and fish to stressors such as oil spills and events limiting oxygen supply in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  The synthesis of historic data with a broad range of new information will identify new, cost-effective ways of monitoring critical living marine resources in the Gulf.


To learn more about these grants, please visit Information about 2016 Gulf Research Program funding opportunities is available at

The Gulf Research Program was established by agreements arising from the settlement of the U.S. government’s criminal complaints following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.  The Program seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas, and foster application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems, and the nation. The Program funds studies, projects, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

Additional Contacts

<p>National Academies:</p> <p>Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer</p> <p>Emily Raschke, Media Assistant</p> <p>Office of News and Public Information</p> <p>202-334-2138; e-mail <a href=""></a></p>

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