The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration (formally the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, OER), is soliciting proposals to conduct or support ocean exploration resulting in outcomes that provide or enable initial assessments about unknown or poorly understood regions of U.S. waters. This funding opportunity will focus on the outcomes of the Workshop to Identify National Ocean Exploration Priorities in the Pacific hosted by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) in 2020 in partnership with OER. Proposals should support the ocean exploration topical priorities or spatial priorities in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) identified in the “Report on the Workshop to Identify National Ocean Exploration Priorities in the Pacific.”

Proposals should also support the National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (national strategy). Proposals for the ocean exploration and marine archaeology themes must be for projects in unknown or poorly understood areas as referenced in the national strategy’s implementation plan and within the U.S. EEZ in the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific priorities workshop report stresses the active awareness of the cultural context in which ocean exploration is often conducted. Recognizing the unique and numerous Pacific communities as partners and stakeholders enhances the overall impact of the ocean exploration enterprise through wider public support, a more diverse workforce and community of practitioners, and incorporation of traditional knowledge systems throughout the process. Applicants should consider including the interests of tribal nations and Indigenous peoples within targeted exploration areas and engaging these communities in a meaningful way.

OER is soliciting proposals focused on any one of the following three themes:

1. OCEANEXPLORATION: Exploration of the biological, chemical, and physical ocean environments and areas to inform future characterization, research, and responsible ocean stewardship in unknown or poorly explored U.S. deepwater areas (see the definition of ocean exploration in the national strategy). Areas proposed for exploration must be at water depths of 200 m or more. OER is particularly interested in themes and/or geographic priorities identified by the COL Pacific workshop report, including proposals on deep-ocean acoustics, the water column, seafloor habitat, biology, and marine resources. The use of autonomous and other innovative technologies is an OER priority.

2. MARINEARCHAEOLOGY. Exploration and discovery of underwater cultural heritage sites and objects to enrich U.S. maritime history and inform decisions concerning site, feature, or object preservation and potential seafloor use. Marine archaeology projects can be conducted in any water depth. OER is particularly interested in proposals focused on themes and/or geographic priorities identified by the COL Pacific workshop report, including submerged evidence of early human migration and occupation on the continental shelf and places significant to U.S. history. The use of autonomous and other innovative technologies is an OER priority.

3. TECHNOLOGY. Application of new or novel use of existing ocean technologies or innovative methods that could increase the scope and efficiency of acquiring ocean exploration data and expanding exploration data availability and use. Proposed ocean technologies must be applicable to water depths of 200 m or greater, preferably full-ocean depth (testing in shallower water or lab-based testing is acceptable). OER is particularly interested in proposals focused on innovative sensors and technologies that could increase the capabilities of autonomous seagoing systems and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications that could improve ocean exploration data usability and accessibility. Consult the NOAA Artificial Intelligence Strategic Plan for information on NOAA defined AI/ML.

The deadline for the pre-proposal submission is June 21, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. The full proposal is due on October 8, 2021.

The notice of funding opportunity was published on May 17, 2021, and is available on the NOAA Ocean Exploration website: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/about/funding-opps/welcome.html

A webinar about the funding opportunity will be held on May 26, 2021, at 1 p.m. EDT. Registration is required. A recording of the webinar will be posted on the Federal Funding Opportunity web page on the NOAA Ocean Exploration website after the event. Additional questions may be directed to oer.ffo2022@noaa.gov.