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Northern Ocean Rapid Surface Evolution (NORSE)


The "Northern Ocean Rapid Surface Evolution" is an Office of Naval Research (ONR) Departmental Research Initiative, or DRI. The goal of this four-year (FY20-FY24) DRI is to improve the knowledge and understanding of the physics of rapid dynamical, thermodynamic, and acoustical changes to the surface layer of the ocean subject to strong forcing.

While much renewed attention has focused on the ocean physics of the Arctic, the ice-free high latitudes also have unique physical properties that lead to challenges for the operational navy. In particular, the frequent occurrence of enhanced wind forcing, the enhanced role of salinity in buoyancy, the shortness of the inertial period, and the small deformation radius for ocean eddies, all allow for rapid evolution of the near-surface layer in a manner that affects both stratification (relevant for the sound propagation environment) and also oceanic currents (relevant for the operation of autonomous UxV assets).


The proposed program will be focused on characterizing the key physical parameters governing the predictability of upper-ocean rapid evolution events occurring in the ice-free high latitudes.  The goal of the program would to identify which observable parameters are most influential in improving model predictably through inclusion by assimilation, and to autonomous observing network that optimizes sampling of high-priority fields. The objective of the DRI is to demonstrate improved predictability of the upper ocean physical fields associated with velocity and acoustics over the course of the study.

The primary field effort is expected to take place in the Nordic seas between the summers of 2022 through the summer of 2023 and will employ a variety of observational approaches involving drifting sensors on the surface and within the water column, piloted autonomous vehicles, bottom-moored systems, and ship-based data collection.

At the conclusion of this DRI, the following are the expected outcomes:

  • Improved physical and acoustic predictive capability for the upper ocean.
  • Improved physical and acoustic data collection methodologies for autonomy-based sampling of the ice-free high latitudes.
  • Improved predictive capability for sound propagation, transmission loss, and surface duct formation.

Request for Planning Letters

The first step in the DRI process is for prospective investigators to prepare planning letters. The purpose of the planning letters is to allow investigators to submit a short (three pages maximum) summary of their ideas on this topic for ONR to evaluate, provide technical feedback and indicate whether a full proposal would have a reasonable chance of success.

Important Dates

October 1, 2020: Last date to submit planning letters (submit by email)
November 1, 2020: Last date ONR will respond to all submitted planning letters and requests for proposals
January, 2021: Earliest anticipated commencement of awards made with FY21 funding - dependent on USG budgetary process

All planning letters should be submitted by email to:

Dr. Scott Harper ( and Dr. Lou St. Laurent (

Please note "NORSE planning letter and 'Your Name'" in your email subject line. If you do not receive a thank you note within 10 days, please follow-up with a resend.