The College of Geosciences Launches Two High Frequency Radars in the Gulf of Mexico

Jul 25, 2016

Texas A&M University’s College of Geosciences has successfully launched two new High Frequency (HF) radars as the first phase of the highly collaborative “Smart Gulf” initiative that will provide instant oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.  This data will impact the lives of thousands of commercial fishermen, oil and gas workers, shipping and recreational boaters, coastal residents and others who are in and around the Gulf at any moment of the day. 

Ocean observation is essential for emergency preparedness and response, and to provide data for our future resiliency in oil and gas production, shipping, public health, disaster avoidance and recovery, and ecosystem vitality.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, whose Chancellor’s Research Initiative provided the seed money for the project, said the Gulf of Mexico has a profound impact on the weather, climate, ecosystem, resources and economy of the 50 million people who live in Texas and the other Gulf States.

“The Gulf region is among the most important to the interests of the United States and Texas, with many economic, public safety and geopolitical implications,” said Chancellor Sharp. “Texas A&M has the obligation and the responsibility to provide the expertise, leadership and solutions to real world challenges that affect Texans and other people around the globe.”

"The Gulf of Mexico is a complex observing environment with a diverse slate of human and environmental activity, and Texas accounts for nearly 25% of that observing area," said Zdenka Willis, Director, U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS[1]). "These new Sea Sonde radars have proven effective not only with day-to-day operations and for search and rescue, but also in expediting response to offshore oil spill response in the Gulf and the Pacific. They're a valuable asset to a growing observing network that provides critical data for navigation, research, and public safety."

With the use of HF, a new era of scientific discovery is under way – one that will change our understanding of how interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere impact the citizens of Texas. “We live in an environment that is complex and dynamic, and we lack data of sufficient resolution in space and time to reliably forecast environmental changes or decision makers to respond in a timely and responsible way. This is not only an incredible accomplishment for the College of Geosciences and Texas A&M but it is also a responsibility for the university to serve the citizens of the State, the Nation and the world – we are very proud to do so,” said Dr. Kate Miller, Dean of the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M.

The College of Geosciences, in collaboration with other colleges, industry partners, and State agencies, plans to establish a robust ocean observing network made up of sensors, HF radars, buoys, ships of opportunity, gliders (ASVs and AUVs), that build on existing infrastructure to collect a variety of oceanographic, atmospheric, chemical and biotic data in real and near-real-time.

Texas A&M Vice President for Research Glen A. Laine said, “This networked observation system will provide unprecedented access to data that will advance both Texas A&M’s research enterprise and our understanding of critical, life-affecting environmental cycles of which no corner of our planet is immune. The impact of this transformational research will reach from the curriculum and learning to opportunities and experiences for our students.”

Two radars are now operational and providing data, and new radars will soon be installed for a total of 7, in and around the Gulf of Mexico. “Not all coastal sites in Texas have power so for some of the sites GERG is building solar systems to power these radars. We hope to have two more operating by the end of August,” said Dr. Anthony Knap, Director Geochemical and Environmental Research Group, Professor of Oceanography.

This ocean-observing network is central to positioning Texas A&M as a recognized leader in research, teaching and amplifies the university’s public service commitment, as it provides critical data, develops models and provides environmental forecasts that have direct societal impact.

The initiative will lead to new tools that more effectively communicate complex issues in environmental science to policy makers, educators, and the general public. The long-term vision is to establish an ocean-observing network throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico and eventually to integrate it into a global framework for the North Atlantic and the low latitudes. This long-term strategy not only optimizes the sciences but also advances key collaborations with the Ocean Observing Initiative (OOI), Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing system (GCOOS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA), and industry and researchers in other Gulf Coast States. International collaborations with Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba, as well as partnerships with researchers and industry in Europe, China, and Israel are also part of the comprehensive plans.

“These radars are a great addition to our observing system funded through the Texas General Land Office. They provide real time information on ocean conditions so for oil spills, storms, etc. Texas is well prepared as they complement the TABS buoy network. I would like to thank Steve DiMarco, John Walpert, Andrew Dancer, Kerri Whilden and Luz Zarate for the hard work in getting this system installed,” said Dr. Knap.

“As the State lead in Coastal oil spill response the Texas General Land Office (TGLO) is extremely excited about the implementation of the Texas A&M HF Radar array! The TGLO response capabilities, and its long running TABS Buoy System, will surely be enhanced by the addition of the surface current monitoring capabilities of the HFs. Their use in assessing the capabilities of our offshore ROMS model, which is integral in plotting trajectories of oil spill movements, will be an invaluable asset!” said Steve Buschang, TGLO, State Scientific Support Coordinator, Director of Research and Development.

The TGLO allocates substantial financial commitments to the College of Geosciences, as well as many other agencies for contaminant analysis of Texas fish and wildlife as well as for oil-spill dispersion modeling. The further development of this network combined with related efforts proposed for land-based operations will improve the understanding of the ocean-land nexus and provide new models and tools for effective management of natural and manmade environmental hazards and phenomena. These efforts include collaborations with other colleges and Texas A&M components, including AgriLife, Engineering, Offshore Technology Research Center, Science, Health Sciences, Texas A&M at Galveston, and Texas A&M at Corpus Christi, among others.

“HFR is vital to protecting coastlines from man-made disasters such as oil spills and to forecasting and mitigating natural disasters like HABs and hurricanes,” said GCOOS[2] Executive Director Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick. “GCOOS has been promoting the need for a stronger HFR network in the Gulf of Mexico and we applaud the commitment that Dr. Knap and Texas A&M University have made by installing these radar systems that will ultimately enhance boater and maritime operator safety on our waters. This is an important step in building a complete observing system for the Gulf of Mexico.”

[1] U.S. IOOS® is a federal, regional and private sector partnership working to enhance the ability to collect, deliver and use ocean information. IOOS delivers data and information needed to increase understanding of our ocean and coasts so that decision makers can act to improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect the environment. For more information visit:
[2] The nonprofit Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System is a network of business leaders, marine scientists, resource managers, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholder groups that combine their data to provide timely information about our oceans — similar to the information gathered by the National Weather Service to develop weather forecasts. Information from the Texas HFR stations will be streamed on GCOOS’s online data portal at  GCOOS is one of the 11 regional coastal ocean observing systems now under the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), which coordinates a comprehensive, national ocean observing network critical to the social welfare and economic success of the United States.

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