From Innovation to Collaboration: Propelling Ocean Exploration Forward to Meet the Needs of the Future

Date: Wednesday, October 19

Time: 3:30-4:50 PM

Session Description:

A vast ocean environment, with more than 75% still unmapped and unexplored, combined with the pressing concerns of a changing climate, has highlighted the need to optimize and innovate ocean exploration technologies now more than ever. The National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (NOMEC Strategy) and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development have paved a roadmap of ambitious goals to understand, protect, and manage our oceans.

These goals require multiple perspectives and a whole-of-community approach to achieve, with ocean exploration playing a vital role in providing rigorous observations and documentation to fill critical gaps in ocean information.

As the only federal organization dedicated to exploring the global ocean, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration strives to advance its mission through collaborative partnerships and technological innovation.

NOAA Ocean Exploration will lead this session to engage the marine technology community in a discussion on ocean exploration initiatives including the U.S. NOMEC Strategy. Session participants will:

  1. Receive a brief overview of the NOMEC Strategy and other ocean exploration initiatives
  2. Engage with NOAA Ocean Exploration leadership on technological innovations and potential partnership opportunities to advance ocean exploration initiatives
  3. Hear from panelists on specific requirements and priorities needed for technological advancement in ocean exploration



Dr. Sarah Kapnick – Moderator

Sarah Kapnick, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist for NOAA. In this role, Dr. Kapnick is responsible for advancing policy and program direction for NOAA’s science and technology priorities.

Dr. Kapnick has extensive experience at the intersection of climate science and economics. Most recently, she served as a managing director at J.P. Morgan in the role of Senior Climate Scientist and Sustainability Strategist for Asset and Wealth Management. While at J.P. Morgan, she supported sustainability and climate action efforts and served as an advisor on new business and investment opportunities and risks.

Previously, Dr. Kapnick was a physical scientist and deputy division leader on seasonal to decadal variability and predictability at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). At GFDL, her work spanned seasonal climate prediction, mountain snowpack, extreme storms, water security and climate impacts. She was an expert and reviewer for NOAA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program, a member of its Eastern Region Climate Team, a science panelist for and the NOAA team lead for the NASA High Mountain Asia Team.

Dr. Kapnick is a member of the American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Prior to her graduate studies, she spent two years as an investment banking analyst with Goldman Sachs covering financial institutions. She received a Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences with a Certificate in Leaders in Sustainability from UCLA, and an A.B in Mathematics with a Certificate in Finance from Princeton University.


Jeremy Weirich – Director, NOAA Ocean Exploration

Jeremy Weirich returned to NOAA in March 2022 to lead NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, a federal program dedicated to exploring previously unknown areas of our ocean by leading, coordinating, and funding expeditions around the world with a focus on deep waters. He had most recently served as the Vice President for Corporate Strategy at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), a non-profit science organization that develops and manages ground-based and space-based telescopes for NASA and NSF, where he led policy and advocacy for planning for the next generation of U.S. cutting-edge telescopes. Prior to his leadership at AURA, he worked on the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Appropriations as the Subcommittee Staff Director (Majority Clerk) for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. Jeremy began his federal career with NOAA, having served in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps aboard ocean-going research and hydrographic vessels and coordinated underwater archaeological expeditions for the office he now leads. He graduated with a BS in Ocean Studies from Maine Maritime Academy and received an MSc in Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.


Dr. Kakani Katija (Virtual Attendance)

Dr. Kakani Katija is a Principal Engineer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution), and a Visiting Associate Professor in Aerospace at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Originally an Aerospace Engineer (BSc from University of Washington and MSc from Caltech), Kakani received a PhD in Bioengineering from Caltech. As lead of the Bioinspiration Lab, Kakani and her group investigates ways that imaging can enable novel observations of life in the deep sea. By developing imaging and illumination tools (e.g., DeepPIV and EyeRIS), automating the classification of underwater visual data using artificial intelligence (FathomNet), and integrating algorithms on vehicles (ML-Tracking) for robotic vehicle missions (e.g. Mesobot, LRAUV) to consistently and persistently observe ocean life, her group’s efforts will help increase access to biology and related phenomena in the deep sea. Kakani was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2011, a Kavli Research Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013, and a Frontiers of Engineering Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering in 2020. She has received generous funding support for the Bioinspiration Lab’s work from a number of funding organizations including the Packard Foundation, National Geographic Society, NSF, NOAA, Schmidt Ocean Institute, and the Moore Foundation. In her spare time, Kakani, along with her husband and dog, like to roam the outdoors by foot and participate in random sporting events (e.g., figure skating, keg tossing, tobogganing, etc.).


Tosca Lichtenheld – Sofar Ocean

Tosca Lichtenheld is Sofar Ocean’s Government Business Development Lead. Tosca specializes in scaling commercial technology solutions for dual use by both the U.S. Government and the private sector. Her interest in the public-private nexus began early in her career, when she was a technology analyst in the U.S. Intelligence Community. Prior to joining Sofar, Tosca spent five years at Palantir Technologies, where she implemented commercial data integration and artificial intelligence solutions for the U.S. Government. Tosca graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.S. in Chemistry.


Brian Connon – Saildrone

Captain Brian Connon, US Navy (Ret) became Vice President, Ocean Mapping at Saildrone, Inc. in December 2020 after serving for 2 years as Director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hydrographic Science Research Center. A 28 year veteran of the US Navy, he directed the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Maritime Safety Office, served as Superintendent of the US Naval Observatory, Deputy Oceanographer/Navigator of the Navy, Deputy Hydrographer of the Navy, and Commanding Officer of the Navy’s Fleet Survey Team. A certified hydrographer, he holds a BS in Geography from the University of South Carolina, an MS in Oceanography and Meteorology from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, and an MS in Hydrography from the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a Chartered Marine Scientist (Hydrography) and Fellow of the Institute for Marine Engineering, Science and Technology.


Dr. Adam Soule 

Adam Soule is a Professor at University of Rhode Island – Graduate School of Oceanography and the Executive Director of the NOAA-funded Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute. Previously, he served as the Chief Scientist of the National Deep Submergence Facility at WHOI. His research focuses on volcanism in the ocean and associated tectonic and hydrothermal processes. Soule has extensive experience using human-occupied, robotic, and autonomous vehicles to explore a range of deep-sea science questions. With the OECI, he focuses on accelerating the pace of ocean exploration through the development and application of new technologies from vehicles to sensors with an emphasis on conducting simultaneous, multi-vehicle operations that utilize human-in-the-loop autonomy and coordinated robotics to enable exploration of the full water column.