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SMART Bay ARC - Connecting the Chesapeake Bay to the World

Strategic Mobilization of Autonomous Research Technologies for Chesapeake Bay Assessment, Restoration, and Conservation

Published onMar 07, 2018
SMART Bay ARC - Connecting the Chesapeake Bay to the World

We are looking for collaborators on the following:

  • Platform web connectivity services and programming for video and remote monitoring

  • Engineering for weather systems for the Bay environment, and operation stations for mobile and stationary systems

  • Outreach and media

  • Bio-fouling research

  • Low cost sensor packages

  • Media outreach and immersive media technologies 


The Chesapeake Bay is an out of balance ecosystem. Concerning a 64,000 square mile watershed, populated with 18 million people, and housing 3,000 different species of plants and animals, daily stresses on the Bay have negatively impacted the ecology. In 1983, agreements between Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Delaware recognized the need for Bay cleanup. The agreement gave a target year of 2000 for Bay restoration. With a reduction agreement reaffirmation in 1992, the first state of the bay assessment was publicized in 1998, rating the Bay a 27 out of 100 (100 representing pristine waters). This signified that though the watershed states wanted to clean the Bay, the policies agreed to were not acted upon and the Chesapeake was far from clean.

A follow up, The Chesapeake 2000 agreement, set a goal of improving water quality in the Bay sufficiently to get it off the Clean Water Act's "dirty waters list" by 2010. The agreement required a 40 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. In 2006, the EPA admitted the terms of the agreement would not be fully met by the 2010 deadline and was not likely until 2020 or later. In addition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the bay in a "State of the Bay" report card, grading it a 31 out of 100.

Though improvements had been made, with a current rating of 34, there is still a great deal of work needed to continue the trend to obtain a grade of at least 70; considered a saved state. However, more must be done to ensure the iterative increase in Bay health. Recently, however, the 2019 federal government budget has threatened to slash the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program by 90 percent; from $73 million to $7.3 million.

Workforce and persistent monitoring continues to be an issue as funding streams for monitoring and mitigation efforts continually change. To address these issues, we propose an open ocean pilot program to engage students and citizen scientists that will deploy long duration monitoring systems throughout the Bay, allowing for open access to scientific sensor data, video, and operational mission scenarios, engendering community stewardship in the wake of uncertain and dwindling government restoration efforts.


The objective of this program is to bring local and remote citizen scientists and students physically and virtually into the Bay ecosystem. This effort will introduce new technologies and educate public through the use of low cost science platforms such as Buoys, remotely operated vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and aerial systems.

This effort encapsulates innovations involving:

  • Public/private Industry partnership supported hardware platforms (mobile/stationary) designed, build new, or modified existing systems to be operated by student and citizen science teams.

  • Long duration monitoring via Internet connectivity/IoT integrated capabilities.

  • Weekly web-casts/social media events highlighting platforms in the Bay and educational information and analysis.(12-24 weeks for pilot program covering community involvement and deployment/operations)

  • Real-time data gathering and analysis for assessment, restoration, and conservation stewards and policy decision makers.

  • Foundation for program continuation and growth.

We propose a pilot program that targets students and citizen scientists using novel low cost technologies to educate and motivate stewardship while deploying a web-based interactive science platform(s) for assessment, restoration and conservation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

We will also lay the foundation to bring together citizen scientists and students over an 6 month period to become educated on the Chesapeake Bay ecology and science technologies tied into an integrated data collection system(s) and allow for remote observation/operation for continued assessments in select locations in the Chesapeake Bay.

Public/private collaboration for science outreach has great potential in accelerating education and advocacy regionally, and with the help of OpenROV and others, the potential to be recognized not only nationally, but globally as a cutting edge program will incentivize local communities and leaders into taking greater consideration for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem while teaching and inspiring the next generation of government and industry professionals.

Pilot Program Outline:

  • Two Prong Target Audience Approach (student and citizen science)

  • Unmanned/Autonomous Architectures: Stationary and In-Motion Platforms.

  • Software and Data Fusion Platforms and Machine Learning Technologies.

  • Key Targets:

    • Long duration ROV at Oyster reef - Virginia Aquarium or other location.

    • Stationary video, CTD, Turbidity, Dissolved O2, etc, monitoring buoy - Yorktown River, VIMS location and Battle of Yorktown wreck sites.

    • Unmanned/Autonomous Surface vehicle data gathering cruises - Jamestown River and Lynnhaven Inlet.

    • Additional stationary buoy or video system anchored in the Chesapeake Bay inlet with sensor suite.


Maintaining a relationship with communities within the watershed and enhancing education opportunities for the Bay and ocean sciences in general is challenging. However, doing so in a way that is immersive and interactive enables and empowers citizen scientists and students to monitor, assess, and act on ongoing bay health issues. What is absent is the continued effort to bring the local and remote citizens together, inform novel technology approaches, and set a foundation for the implementation and deployment of new technologies for the assessment, restoration and conservation activities vital to a vibrant Bay ecology and economy.

The following risks we feel need to be in mind and evaluated as the project progresses:

  • Course Interest

  • Budget Underestimation

  • Team Technology Implementation and Reliability

  • Software/Data systems Integration

  • Immersive Technology Integration

  • Overall Effectiveness

  • Return On Investment/Public Response

It is well known that active engagement of local communities and schools supports and enhances efforts to assess and maintain the Bay’s delicate ecosystem. We wish to leverage this and institute a new and immersive way of assessing and educating the community whereby impacting future policy decisions.


We have facilities available at the Brock Education center, operated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, facilities at VIMS for classroom education and we are working with 757 Makerspace for CAD and manufacturing and modifying systems for program participants. Volunteer speakers from CBF, VIMS, and NASA Langley will be key to education and guidance/mentorship. We also have use of two boats for deployment and testing of the various systems envisioned. Software resources like integration platforms, data systems, and integration services are currently being discussed between NOAA, OpenROV, and VIMS.

Key things needed are platform web connectivity services and programming for video and remote monitoring/control. Engineering services for weather systems for the Bay environment, and operation stations for mobile and stationary systems. Outreach and media services are needed as well and will be key to the immersive component of the deployment and operation stages of the project.

We estimate the need for $55,000.00 USD for program execution. Additional funding and equipment may also be possible from partner sources.


April 2018 - Program Funding

May 2018 - Course Program Finalization/Publication

June 2018 - Start, Speakers/Purchase/Build

Sept. 2018 - Testing/Systems Integrations

Oct. - Nov.2018 - Deployment/Operations. National Ocean Exploration Forum.

Dec. 2019 - Publications, Request for Funding/Expansion


To address the need for a program that combines novel technologies with persistent outreach and education, our pilot program is designed such that it fulfills these needs and lays a foundation:

  • Bringing together technology subject matter experts as educators/mentors.

  • Provides an open gathering of minds linked by an affinity for technology and ocean ecology.

  • Provides an open engagement environment.

  • Empowers the next generation with knowledge and skills.

  • Creates a maker-space like environment focusing on implementing new technologies for ecological research and discovery within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with potential for a broader horizons when successful.


James Neilan - Principle Investigator and Program Lead, NASA Langley Research Center.

Tanner Council - Initiatives Manager, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Donglai Gong - Assistant Professor, Coastal and Polar Oceanography, Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Kim Couranze - Communications Specialist, NOAA CBIBS.

Charles Cross - Lead Systems Developer, OpenROV.

Ongoing Discussions:

Mark Swingle - Director of Research and Conservation, Virginia Aquarium.

Beau Turner - Community Builder, CEO, 757 Makerspace.

Chris Moore - Virginia Senior Scientist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Kevin Weng - Assistant Professor, Fisheries Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

In addition, the pilot effort is envisioned to also collaborate with Virginia Mariners Museum helping bring together the program and platform(s). We also request help from MIT Media Lab for bio-fouling research work, low cost sensor packages, and media outreach and immersive media technologies. Other collaboration partners are desired and welcomed.

Please check out the Open Explorer Page:


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