NOAA’s Saildrone Team Wins a Department of Commerce Gold Medal!

Congratulations to AOML’s 2023 Department of Commerce Gold Medal winners! AOML is proud to recognize the achievements of our outstanding scientists and staff for their vital contributions to increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of NOAA. 

AOML scientist, Gustavo Goni (right), stands beside PMEL scientist, Ned Cokelet (left), after receiving the DOC Gold medal for saildrone.
AOML scientist, Gustavo Goni (right), stands beside PMEL scientist, Ned Cokelet (left), after receiving the DOC Gold medal.

A 2023 Department of Commerce Gold Medal was awarded to AOML’s Greg Foltz, Gustavo Goni, and Francis Bringas, alongside their partners at NOAA’s Pacific Marine and Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), for pioneering the application of uncrewed surface vehicles (saildrones) to observe hurricanes and tropical storms. We would also like to recognize AOML’s Cooperative Institute employees Jun Zhang and Joaquin Trinanes who are part of the team that contributed to this effort.

The team’s innovative effort led to the first joint operation of remotely-operated saildrones and underwater gliders to collect co-located air-sea observations in tropical cyclones, and the collected real-time data was used for analysis and in support of hurricane forecasts. This major innovation in hurricane observing will advance understanding and prediction of hurricanes in order to save lives and protect property. Saildrones are uncrewed surface vehicles equipped with specially designed “hurricane wings” to enable them to operate in extreme conditions and collect key data about the exchange of heat between the ocean and the atmosphere which will help scientists to better understand and predict tropical cyclone intensity changes.

Two large orange saildrones in the calm ocean.
Two Saildrones in the water after deployment in Jacksonville, FL. Image Credit: Saildrone

The Gold Medal is the highest award of the United States Department of Commerce, presented by the Secretary of Commerce to federal employees for exceptional service for noteworthy or superlative contributions which have a direct and lasting impact.  

The medals and certificates were presented to these winners at an in-person and livestreamed ceremony on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, in the Herbert C. Hoover Building Auditorium in Washington D.C.