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Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems

Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems (UGOS) is envisioned as a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional research initiative to improve understanding of the various interacting physical, biological, and chemical processes at work in the Gulf of Mexico. It involves observations, analyses, data assimilation and modeling, and technical advancements.

Plans for the first phase of the UGOS initiative are focused on improving understanding of the Loop Current System, the dominant circulation feature in the Gulf of Mexico. The position, strength, and structure of the Loop Current System has major implications for hurricane intensity, coastal ecosystems, oil and gas operations, oil spill response, the fishing industry, tourism, and the Gulf region’s economy. Understanding the dynamics driving the Loop Current System will advance knowledge about the dominant physical processes underway in the Gulf of Mexico.

Plans for future phases of UGOS intend to expand the focus to also include biological and chemical processes. The long-term goal is a more complete understanding of the Gulf, from the coastline to the deep abyss, as a complex and dynamic system.


In June 2016, the Gulf Research Program convened a meeting to identify research priorities to advance understanding of the Deep Gulf. During that meeting, research related to the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current System was identified as a top priority. As a result, the National Academies formed a committee to make recommendations on research, observations, analyses, and other activities needed to characterize Loop Current System dynamics and improve the effectiveness of modeling and forecasting efforts.

In January 2018, the National Academies published the committee’s findings in a consensus report titled Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Look Current: Critical Gaps and Recommendations. A few months later, the Gulf Research Program released a funding opportunity that would begin initial activities to address the near-term recommendations of the report. Simultaneously, the framework for the long-term oceanographic initiative known as UGOS was also being developed. In August 2018, a standing committee of experts was appointed to help guide the development of UGOS and of future funding opportunities.

Upcoming Events 
  • Standing Committee Meeting 3: January 30-31, 2019 - Washington, DC
  • Standing Committee Meeting 4: April 22-23, 2020
  • Standing Committee Meeting 5: November 4-5, 2020


Funding Opportunities
  • Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems Grants 1
  • These grants are intended to support activities that will supply new observations, analyses, and modeling needed to advance understanding of Loop Current dynamics for the purpose of improving predictive skills of the Loop Current and associated eddies. It is the first of several funding opportunities for a research initiative aimed at improving understanding and prediction skills of the Loop Current System. Proposed observations, analyses, and modeling address recommendations for near-term activities identified in the consensus report Understanding and Predicting the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current: Gaps and Recommendations.

  • Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems Grants 2
  • These grants are intended to support innovative theories, technologies, or methodologies that build upon existing understanding of the dynamics driving the LCS and could help improve forecasting capabilities of the Loop Current and its associated eddies.

Standing Committee
  • Standing Committee to Advise the Gulf Research Program on the Understanding Gulf Ocean Systems Research Campaign
  • The National Academies has appointed a group of experts to serve on a standing committee to guide the Gulf Research Program in the design, planning, and implementation of a long-term research effort to improve understanding of the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current and other Gulf ocean systems. Committee members are required to be free from conflicts-of-interest and will not be eligible to apply for any funding opportunities developed from the committee’s work. 

In-Kind Support
We would like to express our sincere thanks and appreciation to the following organizations for providing in-kind support to the UGOS intitiative:
Images: Christopher Henze, NASA/Ames (center); Erik Zobrist/NOAA (right)