Seatrec and The USM Team to Improve Hurricane Forecasting and Monitor Critically Endangered Rice’s Whale

VISTA, Calif. – WEBWIRE – Wednesday, May 17, 2023.  Seatrec, a startup company unlocking clean, renewable power for ocean research and commerce, and the Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), today announce the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) aimed at improving hurricane rapid-intensification forecasting and monitoring critically endangered Rice’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico.

The MOU calls for the deployment of two types of Seatrec’s infiniTE™ floats each customized for different missions using the system’s first-of-its-kind modular design and clean, renewable power technology that harvests electricity from the ocean’s temperature differences.

One type of float will feature a suite of instruments to take measurements as frequently as three times per day to track water temperatures and other data that scientists believe contribute to the rapid intensification of hurricanes like Katrina, Irma, and Ian. The second type of float will operate with a passive acoustic hydrophone to monitor the endangered Rice’s whales with less than 100 remaining members of the species clustered in the Gulf’s northeastern waters.

“There is a critical need to better understand the Gulf of Mexico both in terms of its impact on humans in the form of extreme weather events and human impact on the marine life,” points out Yi Chao, Ph.D., the CEO and founder of Seatrec. “Having the flexibility to quickly and inexpensively deploy different mission-specific instrument suites on deep-diving, autonomous floats powered by a clean, renewable power source gives scientists like those at USM important tools to gather data not possible with previous technologies.”

Rice’s whales are members of the baleen whale family Balaenopteridae. With likely fewer than 100 individuals remaining, Rice’s whales are one of the most endangered whales in the world. Recovery of the species depends upon the protection of each remaining whale.

The MOU follows Seatrec’s completion of the six-month Gulf Blue Navigator program that is administered by USM and SeaAhead with partners, including Jackson State University. The program is designed to help scale blue technology startups.

“Power has long been a limiting factor that often restricts the types of instruments deployed in the ocean, how long they can last, and the amount of persistent data they can collect,” explains Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM’s Vice President for Research. “Seatrec’s ability to provide clean, renewable power to vertically integrated and modular instrument suites opens the door to a host of applications that will help us better understand and protect the ocean.”

Added Hailey Bathurst, Program Manager for the Gulf Blue Navigator, “Seatrec exemplifies what the Navigator program is meant to do: help blue tech startups find traction in the Gulf of Mexico, work with the core facilities at USM, and plug into a supportive ecosystem. This MOU and the others being finalized between USM and the inaugural Gulf Blue Navigator cohort members truly represents the potential of the program.”

The Roger F. Wicker Center for Ocean Enterprise serves a global hub for advancing Uncrewed Maritime Systems, ocean data science, maritime cyber research, and blue tech workforce training. The 62,500-square-foot center consists of multiple facilities bringing together federal, industry, and academic partners, creating a collaborative environment to accelerate the development and launch of new technology in the fast-growing ocean economy.

Entrepreneurs and startups developing solutions to global challenges utilize the center to capitalize on world-class ocean research capabilities and connect to university research scientists.

“The Gulf Blue Navigator program has already begun to make an economic impact to the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Dr. Jason McKenna, Director of Research, Development, Testing, Evaluation & Training at the Wicker Center. “This is the first of many follow-on initiatives between USM’s world-class research centers and the Navigator’s program’s first graduating cohorts and demonstrates the ability of our coastal research ecosystem to partner with and help grow blue technology in Mississippi.”

Seatrec’s pioneering energy harvesting system uses phase change materials to harness energy from temperature differences between the ocean’s various depths. These materials contract and expand creating pressure that’s captured and converted into electricity. The clean, virtually limitless power frees scientists to use sensors that typically require shore-supplied power or direct ship support via tethering. The infiniTE™ float platform’s “plug-and-play” modularity vertically integrates different sensors tailored to particular areas of study.


Hurricane Forecasting
Better understanding the rapid intensification of major storms and hurricanes is a particularly pressing goal as annual economic losses from such storms are estimated at $54B. Traditional floats (commonly known as Argo) typically only profile once every 10 days, which is insufficient to measure the intensification of storms that can surge in as little as 24 hours. Seatrec’s infiniTE™ floats are able to sample as frequently as three times per day providing 30x more data than the standard Argo floats.


Whale Monitoring
Studies show that noise from humans adversely affects a broad range of organisms including marine mammals. Hydrophones are needed to quantify the impact of these noises on marine mammals. Hydrophones mounted on Seatrec’s infiniTE™ floats provide an inexpensive, autonomous platform to gather soundscape data at varying depths for years at a time.

Seatrec will establish a long-term presence in the Gulf of Mexico to support the MOU missions with a satellite office provided by the Gulf Blue Navigator program while its headquarters will remain in Vista, California.


About Seatrec
Seatrec designs and manufactures energy harvesting systems that generate electricity from naturally occurring temperature differences in ocean waters. This renewable energy can be used to power deep water oceanographic research equipment such as floats, gliders, and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), resulting in the most scalable, cost-effective deep ocean data collection possible. Incorporated in 2016 by CEO, Dr. Yi Chao, Seatrec’s technology originated at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, to provide clean power for remote off-grid locations. The company is headquartered in Vista, CA. Visit us at and @seatrecinc.

About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is a comprehensive public research institution delivering transformative programs on campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach, at teaching and research sites across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as online. Founded in 1910, USM is one of only 146 universities in the nation to earn the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s "R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity” designation and its robust research enterprise includes experts in ocean science and engineering, polymer science and engineering, and large event venue safety and security, among others. USM is also one of only 36 institutions in the nation accredited in theatre, art and design, dance and music. As an economic driver, USM generates an annual economic impact of more than $663 million across the state. USM welcomes a diverse student body of more than 13,500, representing more than 70 countries, all 50 states, and every county in Mississippi. USM students have collected four Truman Scholarships and 37 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, while also leading Mississippi with 27 Goldwater Scholarships, an honor that recognizes the next generation of great research scientists. Home to the Golden Eagles, USM competes in 17 Division I sports sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). For more information, visit


Contact Information:

Sean Yokomizo
Media Relations/Communications
Seatrec, Inc.

Here is the official press release.