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Planning & History

The Vision

The dream of long-term observatories in the ocean has been explored for more than twenty years. As early as 1988, the ocean sciences community began discussions about the science, design concepts, and engineering of ocean research observatories, leading to the formation of the International Ocean Network (ION) in 1993.  The first national committee was formed in 1995 with NSF funding, and broadened into the Dynamics of Earth and Ocean Systems (DEOS) committee, tasked with providing a focus for exploratory planning for an ocean observatory network.

The first International Conference on Ocean Observing Systems was held in 1999 in San Rafael, France, and focused interest on fixed and mobile observing systems. The international Global Eulerian Observatory (GEO) committee was formed the same year and later (2003) became OceanSITES.

Momentum for research-oriented ocean observing built further upon the two National Research Council (NRC) studies in 2000 and 2003 (“Illuminating the Hidden Planet:  The Future of Seafloor Observatory Science” [2000]; “Enabling Ocean Research in the 21st Century” [2003]), and a series of community workshops.  In 2000, the OOI was approved by the National Science Board (NSB) as a potential Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction project for inclusion in a future National Science Foundation budget, which allowed for focused planning efforts.

Click here for to download Workshop and Community Reports.

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Setting the Foundation

In 2003 and 2004, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission issued major reports with sweeping sets of recommendations designed to improve society’s use and stewardship of, and impact on, the coastal and global ocean.  These recommendations highlighted key areas that require continuous investigation to enable timely and sound decision-making and policy development. Global, regional, and local climate change and impacts, coastal hazards, ecosystem-based management and the relationship between the ocean and human health are among the critical issues noted in the Commissions’ recommendations that point to the need for a sustained, research-driven, ocean observing capability.

In response to recommendations from these reports and at the direction of the Administration, in 2006 the National Science and Technology Council’s Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology developed the Charting the Course for Ocean Science for the United States for the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Strategy (ORPP) document, which provides a framework for research investments to advance current understanding of critical ocean processes and interactions that facilitate responsible use of the ocean environment. The ORPP identifies three critical cross-cutting elements, one of which is ocean observing for research and management.

Early Planning and Conceptual Design

In 2004, the NSF Division of Ocean Sciences (NSF/OCE) established the OOI Project Office to coordinate further OOI planning through the 1201 Group, a joint enterprise between two independent but complementary groups, Consortium for Ocean Research and Education (CORE) and Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI).

The Program Office subsequently transitioned solely to JOI, which then merged with CORE to form the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in 2007. In 2005, the OOI Project Office asked for the ocean research community’s help in developing the OOI network design by soliciting Request for Assistance (RFA) proposals. A total of 48 proposals were submitted by 549 individually named proponents representing 137 institutions, agencies and industries in 35 states, and subjected to peer review.

Using the responses from the RFA process and associated review results, the OOI Project Office and external Advisory Committees developed an initial Conceptual Network Design (CND) for the OOI, which then served as the focus of community discussion at the OOI Design and Implementation Workshop in March 2006.

In July 2006, NSF assembled a Science Panel to provide a merit review of whether the CND would provide the ocean research community with infrastructure capable of addressing high-priority science questions motivating the OOI.  This Panel endorsed the OOI as a worthy investment that, when implemented, would advance our understanding of the Earth and the oceans.

In August 2006, NSF convened a Conceptual Design Review (CDR) to assess the Project’s technical feasibility and budget, the Project’s Management Plan, including schedules and milestones, and education and outreach plans. The CDR Panel affirmed that the OOI, as proposed, would transform oceanographic research in the coming decades, and that the CND provided a good starting point for developing the OOI network.

Further refinement of the design and improved cost realism required that the initial CND be revisited to constrain escalating construction and operations cost projections. The OOI Project Office working with the OOI advisory committees, consisting of unconflicted members of the community, and in consultation with NSF, generated a revised CND.

Formation of the Project Team

The major partners in the OOI construction process, three of the four OOI Implementing Organizations (IO), were selected in 2007 by an acquisition process similar to that used in large federal acquisitions. Sub-awards were established to the University of Washington as the IO for the Cabled Array, the University of California San Diego (UCSD) as the IO for the Cyberinfrastructure, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with two consortium partners, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Oregon State University, as the IO for the Coastal and Global Scale Nodes.  The fourth IO, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, was selected in 2011 as the IO for the Education and Public Engagement software infrastructure component, with its partners University of Maine and Raytheon Mission Operations and Services.

The OOI Program Management Office (within the Consortium for Ocean Leadership) continued to be responsible for program management and systems integration for the overall OOI system.

With three of the Implementing Organizations on-board in 2007, the OOI Project Team worked towards generating the Preliminary Network Design (PND).  In arriving at the OOI PND, the OOI Project Team reconciled the technical concepts from the revised CND with cost and design details done from the “bottom up” by costing over 600 individual technical work packages in the PND Work Breakdown Structure.

The PND development was guided by recommendations and principles established by the advisory structure and the NSF, taking into consideration long-standing program and design concepts, the OOI Science User Requirements and the project cost constraints.

As part of the external review process, NSF convened a second Science Review Panel in October 2007 to assess the OOI Network Design and its ability to provide transformative research capabilities for the ocean science community. This Panel stated that the OOI would provide opportunities to address “broad and compelling interdisciplinary scientific questions that cannot be adequately investigated with current methodologies” and offered a series of recommendations on design, management, and public engagement.

Path Toward a Construction Baseline

The Preliminary Design Review (PDR), convened by NSF in December 2007, assessed the current state of planning for the OOI. The PDR Panel was very positive about the progress of planning for the OOI and about the transformative scientific rationale for the initiative. While there had been some expectation that the OOI could proceed to construction following a successful PDR, as a MREFC project, the OOI was required to follow the full MREFC process for new projects, which includes a successful Final Design Review (FDR) before asking the National Science Board for approval for construction start.

The OOI Team responded to the recommendations of the PDR Panel and then underwent the FDR in November 2008, which scrutinized the technical, programmatic, cost and schedule readiness of the Project.  During the FDR, the plane reviewed and accepted the OOI Final Network Design.  The FDR Panel noted the technical readiness of the Project and recommended that the OOI proceed with construction in July 2010.

After the FDR, extensive discussions were held within NSF, in consultation with the Administration, which emphasized the importance of ensuring the OOI Network would more closely focus on urgent climate change science research. Recent science advances have highlighted the role of the ocean in climate change, the impact of carbon cycling on ocean acidification and ocean carbon sequestration, and the degradation of coastal marine ecosystems.

As a result, NSF identified a variation on the OOI Network Design using ocean infrastructure and sensors deemed to be construction-ready at the FDR to provide additional climate focus, while also reducing construction costs. This modified network design incorporated enhancements to the Coastal/Global Scale Nodes (included in earlier design iterations) and reductions to the Cabled Array.

A Cost and Schedule Review was conducted in March 2009 to evaluate final changes to the design, at which the Panel expressed high confidence that the Project scope can be completed within the proposed cost and schedule. In keeping with past practice, NSF also convened a Science Review Panel to assess the modifications to the OOI Design and its ability to provide transformative research capabilities for the ocean science community.

The Panel expressed support for the infrastructure additions and concern for the reductions and the process by which they were determined, but noted that the intellectual merit and the broader impacts of OOI were very high and perhaps unique in the Earth and Ocean science communities as a whole.

NSF subsequently developed and presented to the NSB the OOI Baseline package, which consisted of the revised OOI Network Design, after fully considering all external science input, science and design reviews, the current OCE portfolio, and the broader context of Administration priorities.  On May 14, 2009, the National Science Board authorized the Director of NSF to award funds for the construction and initial operation of the OOI. On September 2, 2009, NSF and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership signed the Cooperative Agreement that initiated the construction phase of the OOI.