Pettigrew receives 2016 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award

College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture faculty members in marine sciences, Neal R. Pettigrew, professor of oceanography, will receive the 2016 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award.

The award will be presented at the President’s Faculty Recognition Luncheon May 14.

Neil PettigrewPettigrew is the director of UMaine’s Physical Oceanography Group, the University of Maine Ocean Observing System, and the Maine Center for Autonomous Marine Surveys. As a physical oceanographer, he specializes in the circulation and physical processes in coastal seas, gulfs, continental shelves, straits, coastal embayments and estuaries.

Pettigrew is internationally recognized for his research group’s innovative surface data buoy designs that became the nation’s first coastal ocean observing system. His research over the past quarter-century has been funded by more than $40 million in extramural grants.

Pettigrew has a Ph.D. in physical oceanography from the joint program in oceanography of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Early in his career, with his first research grant from NASA, Pettigrew was instrumental in the development of the Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP). ADCP is a remote current sensor based on the Doppler frequency shift of short acoustic beams scattered back to the ADCP from particles in the moving waters. After making improvements of the techniques to calculate current profiles in conditions of tilted and oscillating ADCPs, extensive validation of the RDI ADCP was field tested in comparison to the best current meter buoys in the Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment.

ADCP is currently the internationally preferred instrument and technique for obtaining the accurate measurements of water currents at multiple depths in a water column. Pettigrew first employed the ADCPs in an ONR grant-funded experiment that resulted in significant contributions to increased understanding of the exchange of waters between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.

Pettigrew joined the UMaine community in 1991 and launched an oceanographic research program based on moored sensors to study the oceanography of the eastern Gulf of Maine. With funding from NOAA, he and his research team designed and built a system of oceanographic buoys that were deployed in the Gulf of Maine, producing first-of-their-kind data and information about ocean temperatures, salinities and currents. The data enabled the documentation and modeling of the interconnected Eastern Maine Coastal Current and Jordan Basin gyre that controls biological productivity for much of the Gulf of Maine.

Starting in the middle 1990s, Pettigrew’s research group developed and deployed a small-scale coastal observing system in Penobscot Bay using cell phones to report data every few hours. The Penobscot Bay Circulation Program was lauded by the USCG, Penobscot Pilots and commercial fishermen for the system’s novel real-time condition reporting. In addition, the data from the moored sensors led to new hypotheses about why outer western portions of the bay produced more lobsters than anywhere else on the Maine coast.

Pettigrew was the founding chief scientist of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System (GoMOOS), the first regional ocean observing system featuring a series of instrumented buoys deployed in the gulf from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts Bay, measuring water temperatures, salinities, dissolved oxygen, current profiles, an array of optical sensors profiles, significant wave heights and periods, fog and other meteorological variables. The buoys, designed, fabricated and maintained by Pettigrew’s team of oceanographers, engineers, computer programmers and research associates, have been transmitting real-time data since 2001.

Now known as UMOOS, the University of Maine Ocean Observing System is part of the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS) providing observations of circulation and ocean conditions in the Gulf of Maine for those who make their livings on the water. This information informs weather forecasters and modelers, and provides data that is integral to ongoing research — from studies of fish populations, ocean climate and ocean acidification to harmful algal blooms. Pettigrew also oversees a buoy array in the Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System (CARICOOS).

Pettigrew and his research group are currently developing small storm data buoys that are designed to be deployed before landfalls by hurricanes or northeasters, in coastal regions endangered by inundation and flooding. This project was funded by NOAA in response to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Early results indicate that the storm buoys, which measure storm waves and storm surges, have significantly improved predictions of catastrophic storm inundation events. In addition, the Physical Oceanography Group is developing sensors and techniques that improve autonomous undersea glider operations in both storms and as an important component of ocean observing systems by providing spatial variations of ocean conditions between the fixed locations of data buoy arrays.

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