To: Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, The United States House of Representatives, and The United States Senate

Support deep-sea research by continuing to fund the only submersible-based scientific program in ...

At a time when James Cameron and Richard Branson are racing to be the first person in 50 years to dive to the deepest part of the ocean, the only U.S. deep submergence facility in the Pacific is losing funding.

The Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory operates the Pisces IV and Pisces V submersibles, two of only eight human occupied vehicles that can go deeper than 1500 m in the world. In addition, HURL operates a robotic vehicle, a full ocean depth multibeam sonar mapping system, and supports a science and data center where these data are logged, archived, and made available to the wider scientific community and general public. Without this facility, we lose our ability for people to explore, discover and study the unique ecosystems, endangered habitats, life-sustaining marine processes, and other wonders of the deep ocean, live with their own eyes.

Please join us in asking Congress to appropriate money so that deep-sea research via manned submersibles and other combined assets can continue. NOAA as a whole does really good work; let us help it continue.

Why is this important?

The Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory is the only U.S. deep submergence facility in the Pacific Rim tasked with supporting undersea research necessary to fulfill the mission, goals, and objectives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with other national interests of importance. Over 30 years of submersible operations have resulted in nearly 1900 dives representing 9300 hours underwater, and a benthic ecology database derived from in-house video record logging of over 125,000 entries based on 1100 unique deep-sea animal identifications in the Hawaiian Archipelago. With emerging interest in marine resources of the Pacific and renewable energy from the sea, HURL's contributions will continue to play an essential role in scientific research and advanced technology.

HURL was established by Cooperative Agreement in 1980 between NOAA and the University of Hawai‘i, at which point it became a Regional Center in NOAA's Undersea Research Program (NURP). In 2009, President Obama signed Public Law 111-11 authorizing both NURP and Ocean Exploration (OE), and their administration under a merged program called the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER). The Center supports highly-rated, peer-reviewed proposals to conduct undersea research in offshore and nearshore waters of the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and waters of the central, southern, and western Pacific, including the new marine national monuments. In addition, HURL accepts funded requests from private, state, or federal agencies and participates in international collaborative research projects.

As of March, 2012, NOAA has zeroed out funding for the Undersea Research Program (NURP) for FY13 beginning Oct 1, 2012, and put all the centers on life support funding (or less) for the current year. Many other NOAA programs, mostly extramural ones, have been cut to some level, though it appears only NURP and another have had their funding zeroed out completely.
From NOAA’s 2013 OAR budget description:
"National Undersea Research Program (NURP): NOAA requests a decrease of $3,985,000 and 6 FTEs to terminate the NURP component of OER. NOAA determined that NURP was a lower-priority function within its portfolio of research activities, particularly given that other avenues of Federal funding for such activities might be pursued. NOAA will continue to support the Ocean Exploration program, which delineates the Extended Continental Shelf and produces significant discoveries in deep sea research. Competitive grants for related activity will continue to be offered through NOAA and other Federal programs."

As of right now, there is no known other funding to maintain the manned submersible capability that HURL provides. Hawai‘i is home to two of only eight human occupied submersibles of their kind. Pisces IV and Pisces V are three-person, battery-powered, one-atmosphere submersibles with a maximum operating depth of 2000 m. They offer scientists direct observation through view ports, HD video cameras, sample collecting, instrument placement, and environmental monitoring.

Over the past 30 years HURL's accomplishments include long-term studies of Lo‘ihi submarine volcano and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Notable discoveries include an historically significant Japanese midget submarine and deep-sea corals that are some of the oldest living organisms on Earth. Work in the newest U.S. marine national monuments led to an international five-month investigation throughout the central and southwestern Pacific that involved 58 scientists from 12 research entities and included the first submersible dives on 13 different undersea volcanoes. A new 6000-m capable ROV will further enable exploration of NOAA’s four new Marine National Monuments in the Pacific. For a relatively small ~$3 million per year, this type of work can continue. It will cost far more to recreate this capability in the future than to support it now and let it evolve to meet the NOAA missions and National interests of the future.

We are calling on Congress to appropriate adequate money so that the U.S. can be a world leader in deep-sea research via a submersible-based scientific program presence in the Pacific region. NOAA as a whole does really good work; let us help it continue.