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The Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) specializes in providing scientists with the tools and expertise they need to investigate the undersea environment, including submersibles, remotely operated vehicles, and other cutting edge technologies. This Center, within the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology at the University of Hawai‘i, is funded through a cooperative agreement from NOAA that began in 1980. The Center is now part of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Traditional research topics sponsored by the Center include the deepwater marine processes, ecosystems, fisheries, and other resources of the islands, seamounts, and atolls in the Pacific Ocean and the human-induced impacts on them. In addition, the effects on the success and survival of species and communities resulting from global oceanic and climate change over a wide range of time and spatial scales are also being studied. New areas of research in coming years include environmental impact measurements associated with innovative ocean energy technologies, particularly ocean thermal energy conversion, cold water cooling, and undersea energy transmission between the islands originating from renewable sources such as wind farms.

Projects supported as part of OER are the major components in the HURL research program. In addition, HURL conducts research in response to funded requests from federal and state agencies and also participates in certain international collaborative research projects in the Pacific that fall within the scope of its major research program themes, using non-OER funds. Projects supported by the Center must be hypothesis driven and address a specific scientific need or gap in knowledge. The focus is field-based research, rather than modeling and laboratory-based studies. As a result, the Center provides support for undersea systems, including human occupied and remotely operated vehicles, a multibeam sonar system, and other standard oceanographic instruments appropriate to the work conducted.

HURL builds its research program through solicitations for research proposals; scientists interested in participating in the HURL research program are invited to respond. Selection of individual scientific research projects is conducted through rigorous peer review and recommendations from an independent scientific advisory panel. A number of ‘collaborative’ projects are also undertaken, the majority of which are funded by other NOAA agencies such as Ocean Exploration, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Sanctuaries, the Pacific Islands Regional Office, the Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The HURL operations center is located on the Makai Research Pier at Makapu‘u Point on the east coast of the island of O‘ahu, which is 15 miles from Honolulu. A submersible hangar is located on the pier, which also houses the operations office, diving locker, and machine and electronic shops. Ship operations are managed by the UH Marine Center at Snug Harbor (Pier 45) on Sand Island Access Road in Honolulu. The ROV facility also operates at this location. The HURL administrative and science offices, data processing center, and labs are located at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in Honolulu.

HURL ship-based facilities support marine research projects that require data acquisition at depths greater than standard SCUBA limits. The major HURL assets consist of the R/V Ka‘imikai-o-Kanaloa (KoK) with a hybrid SeaBeam 3012 full ocean depth multibeam system; the submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V, an ROV, and the HURL Data Center.

Furthermore, HURL has filled the gap from deep sea submersible work to the coast reef environment by sponsoring wet diving research, from deep technical mixed gas and rebreather activities to basic SCUBA and snorkeling, in partnership with the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). Project locations have included all over the main Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Australia, the Line Islands (i.e., Palmyra, Kingman, Jarvis, Kiribati), Guam, Saipan/CNMI, and throughout the Caroline and Marshall Islands.

Along the wet diving theme, HURL has begun reactivating our original submersible launch platform that was used prior to acquiring the support ship R/V KoK. This is the catamaran style Launch, Recovery, and Transport (LRT) platform that acts like a submersible aircraft carrier. Bringing the LRT back into service will provide more options when KoK is not available to us, and there are a series of special operations projects that have been discussed for its use.

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