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Undersea Feature Named in Memoriam of GCOOS, Texas A&M Oceanographer

Posted: August 7, 2019
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An undersea feature in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary has been named in memory of Dr. Matthew K. Howard, founding staff member and Data Manager for the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) and Research Scientist in the Department of Oceanography, Texas A&M University-College Station. Howard, 65, died unexpectedly while attending a scientific conference in 2018.

“Much of Matt’s research was conducted in the Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary and we’re pleased that his name will be used by oceanographers in the future when planning research cruises,” said Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS.

The undersea feature — named Howard Trough — is about 2.2 km north of the main West Flower Garden Bank Plateau in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). The Sanctuary is 70 to 115 miles off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana and is the only national marine sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. The trough was discovered in 1997 by Dr. James V. Gardner, Research Professor in the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire.

“Matt had a unique way of engaging people in the importance of data science and data management and — frankly — making data exciting,” said Dr. Ruth Perry, GCOOS Board Member and Marine Scientist and Regulatory Policy specialist for Shell Exploration and Production Americas teams. “One of his favorite research cruises was in the Gulf of Mexico and supporting the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The naming of this feature connects Matt back to the place he loved — a place that is as special as the impact he has made and will continue to make on many of our lives.”

During his career, Howard was the data manager and researcher on a series of five major studies in the Gulf of Mexico sponsored by the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service. Studies included looking at circulation and transport processes over the Texas and Louisiana continental shelves; the chemical and physical oceanography of the northeastern continental shelf waters; a synthesis and reanalysis of all physical data from deep water regions of the Gulf; the processes that maintain dissolved oxygen levels in the deep water Gulf and a study of sperm whales and their reaction to seismic activity in the Gulf.

Howard promoted open data sharing by entities with ongoing observations in the Gulf of Mexico, using support from the Office of Naval Research. The concept of data collection, management, product development and open distribution to all users evolved into GCOOS, which was incorporated in 2012 and granted tax-exempt status.

Dr. Chris Simoniello, Manager of Outreach and Education at GCOOS, led the request and worked with Jennifer Jencks, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Dr. Gardner and Bobby Jovanovski of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to identify an appropriate undersea feature and undertake the process to request that it be officially named after Howard.

The name was recently approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The Board is a federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government.

“One aspect that intrigued Matt was the connection between land and sea — he spent time at sea in the Flower Garden Banks to better understand the connection between coastal and nearshore activities and ecosystem health,” Simoniello said. “The world is a far better place for Matt having been here and we’re grateful for the help we received to make Howard Trough a tribute to his life.”

First Howard Scholarship Awarded

In 2018, GCOOS also established a scholarship fund in Howard’s name. The Howard Scholarship Fund supports registration and travel for graduate students giving ocean data-related presentations at the meetings of the American Geophysical Union or the Ocean Sciences meetings.

The first scholarship has been awarded to Allison Savoie, a student at the University of Southern Mississippi, who will be presenting a synthesis of the data collected during her master’s thesis work. Savoies’s research builds on Howard’s legacy as a culmination of data from projects that span multiple labs, departments and agencies.

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