School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology

About the School

A Message from the Dean

Graphic of 2011 funding profile. In 1988 the Board of Regents, on the recommendation of then President Al Simone, created the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. SOEST has since grown to about 880 employees, including 250 Ph.Ds, 450 staff, and 180 graduate assistants. The School is an international leader in such diverse fields as Alternative Energy, Tropical Meteorology, Coral Reef Ecosystems, Volcanology, Microbial Oceanography, Seafloor Processes, Hyperspectral Remote Sensing, Cosmo­chemistry, Coastal Processes, and Climate Modeling — and that is just the top ten! Three quarters of SOEST’s $140M budget comes from extramural sources. The Schools extramural funding has more than quadrupled since its founding and accounts for 30% of the overhead generated at UH Mānoa. SOEST offers a world-class undergraduate and graduate experience, enabled by state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities, coupled with mentoring by leading researchers and educators. The School’s success can be attributed to strong leadership, great faculty, excellent facilities, and dedicated support staff, as well as to Hawai‘i’s strategic location and long standing cultural and economic connections to the sea.

Working together with partners in industry and government, our goal is nothing less than to transform the way people live on Earth by enabling a healthy public, economy, and planet through an integrated, comprehensive, and sustained system of Earth observation, research, and education. The fundamental research, technology development, and workforce training that SOEST does to advance understanding of the Ocean Planet on which we live is required if humankind is to prosper in the face of what Al Gore calls “An Inconvenient Truth”. Humans have become the most invasive species on the planet and, as our population growth continues unabated, we are forcing a unique global experiment. By burning fossil fuels and tropical forests, and by making cement and fertilizer, humans have added to the atmosphere more than one quarter of its carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The increase in greenhouse gases such as CO2 to levels unprecedented in the last 800,000 years of Earth’s history, is causing global warming and rising sea level. Coastal communities are slowly being drowned, particularly on the low-lying atolls in the tropical western Pacific. As the climate warms and precipitation patterns change, we are experiencing an increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones, notably in the Atlantic. For the first time in recorded history, there is a late summer ice-free northwest passage through the Arctic. Fish stocks have been severely depleted and the increasing acidification of seawater is decreasing the ability of corals and marine plankton to grow their hard parts. And our awareness of the global changes that we are causing is being compromised in part by gaps developing in the coverage of satellite and other systems that monitor them.

SOEST faculty have formulated strategic plans to address priority issues that have enormous societal relevance and immediate opportunities for implementation. The five priorities are ocean observing, space flight, alternative energy, living marine resources, and natural hazards. Partnerships are key to their implementation, as exemplified by the fact that SOEST faculty sponsor and advise as many graduate students in other colleges as our own.

ocean image In the area of ocean observing, the vision is to provide an operational oceanographic service to ensure a safe, productive, and clean coastal ocean, and resilient coastal zone. Partnerships of federal, state, and county agencies with academic, business, and private entities, will be required to implement a set of regional ocean observing systems to assess and predict the effects of weather, climate, and human activities on the state of the coastal ocean, on its ecosystems and living resources, and on the island economies. With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a team of faculty from across the School have initiated projects to define and forecast sea-state (including currents, waves, storm surge, flooding, and beach erosion), enhance stewardship of living marine resources (fisheries, coral reefs, and marine mammals), and develop a system of automated real-time monitoring of coastal water quality (both its chemistry and microbiology). Focused initially on O‘ahu’s south shore, these catalyst projects should be extended throughout Hawai‘i and the insular Pacific as funding becomes available. Our interest is not only the coastal ocean, but also the deep waters of the Pacific. With National Science Foundation funding we have installed an observatory on the seafloor at Station Aloha, 60 miles north of O‘ahu, with power and communications provided via a decommissioned ATT cable that comes ashore at Makaha. With funding from the State Legislature, we have hired six new tenure-track faculty to further these endeavors.

ocean imageIn a joint venture with the College of Engineering, we formed the Hawai‘i Space Flight Lab. It promises to have the University of Hawai‘i join only a handful of other nations capable of launching satellites into space. With federally appropriated funds and the collaboration of industrial partners such as Novasol, government labs such as Sandia, JPL, NASA-AMES, and NASA-Marshall together with the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua‘i, we plan to launch micro-satellites into low Earth orbits for a fraction of the cost of current alternatives. Even so, the instrument development and first two launches will cost tens of millions of dollars. Using a rail-launch facility at PMRF and spin-stabilized solid-fuel rockets, the Hawai‘i Space Flight Lab will break the current log-jam of getting small satellites weighing 30–300 kg into Earth orbits at 300–1100 km distance. Not only will this be an amazing high-tech workforce and economic engine for Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i, but it will provide unparalleled opportunities for faculty- and student-built micro-satellite systems to get into space. One such system developed at SOEST and, before the Columbia shuttle disaster, slated for deployment on the Space Station, is a Hyperspectral Imager of the Coastal Ocean. It can be used, for example, to monitor the global distribution and health of shallow coral reefs. Federal agencies are particularly interested in the potential for SOEST to establish a low-cost, on-demand launch capability that can space validate new hardware and deploy secure communication constellations.

ocean imageThe cost of energy in Hawai‘i makes this a natural place for the accelerated development of globally exportable technologies to reduce our dependence on imported oil. Several such partnerships are already in place. One is the Hawai‘i Fuel Cell Test Facility, operated by the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute together with Hawaiian Electric. This is part of the Hawai‘i Energy and Environmental Technology initiative, funded by the Office of Naval Research, that also includes the assessment of methane hydrates as a potential future energy source. Another is the National Marine Renewable Energy center funded by the Department of Energy. A third is the biomass gasification and flash carbonization projects that have several industrial partners. A fourth is the fabrication of thin-film semi-conductors for solar hydrogen production and solar photovoltaic systems. HNEI is also partnering with General Electric and Hawaiian electric companies to evaluate and improve electric grid stability given fluctuating supplies from wind, wave, and solar power. A company formed by current and former faculty is in partnership with Royal Dutch Shell to build a demonstration facility on the Big Island that generates biodiesel by feeding CO2 to non-modified marine algae indigenous to Hawai‘i and cultured at SOEST. Experts from the Center for Smart Building and Community Design (a partnership between Architecture and Sea Grant) are advising the University administration on ways to help reduce the campus energy bill.

ocean imageA fourth SOEST priority relates to marine ecosystems. Understanding the biology, ecology, and biogeochemistry of marine micro-organisms, which are the base of the multi-cellular food chain, is the focus of the NSF Science and Technology Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE). Novel methods in molecular biology, combined with satellite- and sea-based remote sensing technologies, will link microbial process studies at spatial scales ranging from genes to the entire Pacific Ocean. At the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology we have multiple programs related to the health and vitality of tropical coral reefs — from gene flow, to community structure, to dispersal patterns and resilience, to ocean acidification. In partnership with NOAA, HIMB is the “brain trust” for improving stewardship of the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument in the NW Hawaiian islands, as well as for understanding the foraging patterns of top predators such as tuna and sharks. HIMB researchers also study the sensory and perceptual processes of marine mammals. Human-induced ocean noise has become an increasingly contentious issue, affecting both research and military operations. Our scientists are seeking to inform that debate with hard-to-obtain data on the echolocation capabilities of whales, dolphins, and polar bears. SOEST faculty are proposing to transition the well-established graduate field of study in Marine Biology into a graduate degree offered jointly with the College of Natural Sciences.

ocean imageHawai‘i is prone to natural hazards: earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, storm surge, drought, and flooding. Our faculty are improving storm surge and tsunami inundation maps and, with County lifeguards, have implemented a Hawai‘i Beach Hazard forecast and web site. We are working on all aspects of volcanic eruption processes, including collaborative studies with the Hawai‘i Volcano Observatory of the US Geological Survey. Partnering with the Japanese Marine Science and Technology Agency, faculty and researchers in the Department of Meteorology and the International Pacific Research Center are improving our understanding of the Asian monsoon (which affects the lives of half the world’s population), and of tropical cyclones and thunderstorms. This includes real-time, data-assimilating model studies to better forecast not only hurricane tracks but also intensity, risk, and impact projections. We have been chosen by the Department of Homeland Security to lead a National Center of Excellence for Maritime Domain Awareness and established the Center for Island, Maritime, and Extreme Environment Security, with partners in the College of Engineering, the University of Alaska, and the University of Puerto Rico, and collaboration with the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. To address environmental, legal, and policy issues of climate change, we have joined with the Schools of Law, Social Sciences, and Hawaiian Knowledge to form the Island Resiliency and Climate Policy Center within the UH Sea Grant College Program.

ocean imageThese are some of the key areas where we are taking up the challenge to fulfill the four-fold vision of the School, which is to:

  • Advance understanding of the Ocean, Earth, and Planets
  • Provide world-class education
  • Foster a high-tech economy
  • Promote sustainable use of the environment

My goal as Dean is to continue building an innovative faculty, supported by excellent facilities and motivated staff, that will fulfill our potential and result in our shared success.

Mahalo to the administration, faculty, and staff for the trust put in me to lead this wonderful enterprise that is the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Brian Taylor
Dean of SOEST

SOEST brochure cover graphicSOEST Brochure PDFs Available

The above is the introduction to the new SOEST brochure, which provides an excellent overview of the school and its mission. Download a high-resolution (50MB) or low-resolution (6MB) PDF (funding profile updated 05-25-12).


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