Skip navigation

Seatrec and The University of Southern Mississippi Team to Improve Hurricane Forecasting and Monitor Critically Endangered Rice’s Whale

Wed, 05/17/2023 - 09:39am | By: Van Arnold


Gulf Blue

Seatrec founder and CEO Yi Chao shows off the company’s InfiniTE float device

Seatrec, a renewable energy company that harvests energy from temperature differences in the environment, and the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), today announce the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) aimed at improving hurricane rapid-intensification forecasting and monitoring critically endangered Rice’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

The MOU calls for the deployment of two sets of Seatrec’s InfiniTE™ floats each customized for a different mission using the system's first-of-its-kind modular design and clean, renewable power technology that harvests electricity from the ocean’s temperature differences.

Gulf BlueOne set of floats will feature a suite of instruments to take measurements as frequently as three times per day to track water temperatures and other data that scientists believe contribute to the rapid intensification of hurricanes like Katrina, Irma, and Ian. The second set of floats will operate with a passive acoustic hydrophone to monitor the endangered Rice’s whales with the last 30 to 50 members of the species clustered in the Gulf’s northeastern waters.

“There is a critical need to better understand the Gulf of Mexico both in terms of its impact on humans in the form of extreme weather events and human impact on the natural ecosystem,” points out Yi Chao, Ph.D., the CEO and founder of Seatrec. “Having the flexibility to quickly and inexpensively deploy different mission-specific instrument suites on deep-diving, autonomous floats powered by a clean, renewable power source gives scientists like those at USM important tools to gather data not possible with previous technologies.”

Rice's whales are members of the baleen whale family Balaenopteridae. With likely fewer than 100 individuals remaining, Rice's whales are one of the most endangered whales in the world. Recovery of the species depends upon the protection of each remaining whale.

The MOU follows Seatrec’s completion of the six-month Gulf Blue Navigator program that is administered by USM and SeaAhead with partners, including Jackson State University. The program is designed to help scale blue technology startups.

“Power has long been a limiting factor that often restricts the types of instruments deployed in the ocean, how long they can last, and the amount of persistent data they can collect,” explains Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM’s Vice President for Research. “Seatrec’s ability to provide clean, renewable power to vertically integrated and modular instrument suites opens the door to a host of applications that will help us better understand and protect the ocean.”

Added Hailey Bathurst, Program Manager for the Gulf Blue Navigator, “Seatrec exemplifies what the Navigator program is meant to do: help later-stage startups find traction in the Gulf of Mexico, work with the core facilities at USM, and plug into a supportive ecosystem. This MOU and the others being finalized between USM and the inaugural Gulf Blue Navigator cohort members truly represents the potential of the program.”

The Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise serves a global hub for advancing Uncrewed Maritime Systems, ocean data science, maritime cyber research, and blue tech workforce training. The 62,500-square-foot center consists of multiple facilities bringing together federal, industry, and academic partners, creating a collaborative environment to accelerate the development and launch of new technology in the fast-growing ocean economy.

Entrepreneurs and startups developing solutions to global challenges utilize the center to capitalize on world-class ocean research capabilities and connect to university research scientists.

“The Gulf Blue Navigator program has already begun to make an economic impact to the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Dr. Jason McKenna, Director of Research, Development, Testing, Evaluation & Training at the Wicker Center. “This is the first of many follow-on initiatives between USM’s world-class research centers and the Navigator’s program’s first graduating cohorts and demonstrates the ability of our coastal research ecosystem to partner with, and help grow blue technology in Mississippi.”

Seatrec’s pioneering energy harvesting system uses phase change materials to harness energy from temperature differences between the ocean’s various depths. These materials contract and expand creating pressure that’s captured and converted into electricity. The clean, virtually limitless power frees scientists to use sensors that typically require shore-supplied power or direct ship support via tethering.

The InfiniTE™ float platform’s “plug-and-play” modularity vertically integrates different sensors tailored to particular areas of study.

Hurricane Forecasting

Better understanding the rapid intensification of major storms and hurricanes is a particularly pressing goal as annual economic losses from such storms are estimated at $54B. Traditional floats (commonly known as Argo) use primary batteries and typically only profile once every 10 days, which is insufficient to measure the intensification of storms that can surge in as little as 24 hours. Seaterc’s InfiniTE™ floats are able to sample as frequently as three times per day providing 30x more data than the current standard set by Argo floats.

Whale Monitoring

Studies show that noise from humans adversely affects a broad range of organisms including marine mammals. Hydrophones are needed to quantify the impact of these noises on marine mammals. Hydrophones mounted on Seatrec’s InfiniTE™ floats provide an inexpensive, autonomous platform to gather soundscape data at varying depths for years at a time.

Seatrec will establish a long-term presence in the Gulf of Mexico to support the MOU missions with a satellite office provided by the Gulf Blue Navigator program while its headquarters will remain in Vista, California.:

About Seatrec

Seatrec designs and manufactures energy harvesting systems that generate electricity from naturally occurring temperature differences in ocean waters. This renewable energy can be used to power deep water oceanographic research equipment such as floats, gliders, and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), resulting in the most scalable, cost-effective deep ocean data collection possible. Incorporated in 2016 by CEO, Dr. Yi Chao, Seatrec’s technology originated at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, to provide clean power for remote off-grid locations. The company is headquartered in Vista, CA. Learn more at the Seatrec website and @seatrecinc.