Monday, April 28, 2014

Unmanned aircraft to study marine mammals in Alaska

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) support services to conduct aerial surveys for marine mammals in the northeastern Chukchi and western Beaufort seas, offshore of Wainwright and Barrow, Alaska.

NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), Alaska Fisheries Science Center, conducts research on marine mammals. Results of NMML’s research and monitoring efforts are provided to various domestic and international organizations to assist in developing rational and appropriate management regimes for marine resources under NOAA’s jurisdiction.

The whales

Gray whales, bowhead whales, and belugas are seasonal residents of the northeastern Chukchi Sea and western Beaufort Sea, regions that provide important feeding grounds and migration pathways for all three species. All three species are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the bowhead whale is granted additional protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and bowhead whales and belugas are granted additional management consideration as the targets of subsistence hunts by Alaskan natives. Under the National Environmental Policy Act and the ESA, federal agencies are required to evaluate if and how federal actions associated with oil and gas exploration, development, and production may affect these species. Aerial surveys are a standard methodology for conducting studies of whale distribution required to understand the effects of oil and gas exploration. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in using UAS to survey whales in the Arctic to decrease risk to personnel, increase survey efficiency, and minimize disturbance of marine wildlife.

“NOAA is seeking sources capable of supplying and providing support services for an unmanned aerial system to conduct studies of gray whales, bowhead whales and belugas,” the agency said in contract documents released Friday. Contractors supporting the project will be required to travel to NMML’s offices in Seattle, Wash., for a two-day kick-off meeting in late January or early February 2015, and a one day wrap-up meeting in October, 2015.

In mid-August, 2015, UAS support personnel will be required to travel to the port (anticipated to be Dutch Harbor or Nome, Alaska) where the UAS equipment and support personnel will embark the survey vessel. The government will provide the contractor’s lodging and meals while at sea. When operations are completed in mid-September, 2015, UAS support personnel and equipment will be required to disembark the survey vessel.

The contract will run from Jan. 20, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2015, with field deployment estimated to be from mid-August to mid-September, 2015. There will be a total of approximately 19 days at sea, with 14 days in the survey area and five transit days.

Unmanned Aerial System requirements
  • The UAS shall be a fixed wing, propeller driven air vehicle with demonstrated ability to be launched and recovered from a 100 foot to 250 foot vessel at sea.
  • Capable of operating at cruise speed range of between 40-110 knots.
  • Capable of flying at operational altitudes between 500 ft. – 5000 ft. AGL at cruise speeds.
  • UAS must have demonstrated flight endurance (at specified cruise speed, attitude range, and payload weight) of at least five hours.
Companies interested in supporting the project should contact NOAA by May 15.

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