By BRUCE CORLISS and ROBERT BALLARD
As University of Rhode Island alumni, we are proud of the many contributions the Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) has made to Rhode Island, the nation, and the world, and we are excited about its future. Since its founding in 1961, the GSO has served as one of the world’s premier institutions for the study and exploration of our oceans and has put Rhode Island on the map as a national and international leader in oceanography and marine science.
On Nov. 6, Rhode Island voters have an opportunity to continue this leadership by approving ballot Question 2.
Approval of Question 2, the Higher Education Bond, will authorize $45 million to URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus to build a new Ocean Technology Center that will support research, education, and collaboration with the private sector and the national defense industry to develop autonomous underwater vehicles (drones), sensors, marine robotics, and other state-of-the-art marine technologies that will contribute to Rhode Island’s beckoning Blue Economy. The bond would also fund important renovations to GSO’s pier, which in 2021 will become the home port for a new $125 million research vessel recently awarded to a URI-led consortium by the National Science Foundation.
Additionally, the proceeds would be used to build a marine operations building to maintain GSO’s assets for the long term.
As a pioneering leader in ocean research, and with sea-level rise continuing to pose an imminent threat to our coasts, even more will be expected of GSO in the coming decades. As expectations grow, so will the need for advanced facilities and technology that support these endeavors while continuing to attract top students who will become the next generation of ocean science leaders.
Approval of Question 2 will assist GSO with meeting these expectations and will have a direct impact locally by further supporting a healthy Narragansett Bay through coastal and marine science research that has informed sound policy and management decisions in Rhode Island for five decades. In addition, it will support the protection of Rhode Island’s robust fisheries, help expand our workforce to support our Blue Economy, and continue to bring national visibility to Rhode Island.
Time and time again we have seen URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus, which includes GSO, the Department of Ocean Engineering, and marine programs of the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, deliver a worthy return on investment. During the past decade, the Narragansett Bay Campus successfully competed for $330 million in research funds from federal and state agencies and the private sector. These dollars are invested right back into Rhode Island’s economy through job creation, higher education, and procurement opportunities for small businesses.
An economic impact study commissioned in 2017 showed that the Bay Campus contributes nearly $50 million annually to the local economy. With approval of Question 2, we estimate that over the next 30 years the campus will receive $1 billion or more of research funding and will inject over $1.5 billion into Rhode Island’s economy.
For over 40 years, the Narragansett Bay Campus has been home to the National Science Foundation-owned R/V Endeavor. As a representative and ambassador for Rhode Island, the Endeavor has sailed more than a million miles throughout the Atlantic Ocean and adjoining seas carrying out both basic and applied scientific research. Science teachers from across Rhode Island participate in educational cruises on the Endeavor that provide them with first-hand knowledge of marine science that they take back to their classrooms.
And GSO’s Coastal Resources Center played a leadership role to provide marine spatial planning that brought stakeholders together to support development of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first U.S. marine wind facility.
Bruce Corliss is dean of the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. Robert Ballard is professor of oceanography and director of the Center for Ocean Exploration.