The John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County is known for its contributions to rocket engine science and NASA spaceflight programs.
However, it’s unclear how many people realize the base is also home to one of the most important U.S. naval operations in the world.
The Naval Meteorology & Oceanography Command, known more commonly as Naval Oceanography, is headquartered at Stennis and operates survey vessels and unmanned underwater vehicles to gain and utilize oceanographic and acoustic knowledge that helps prepare naval forces for warfare.
U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ron Piret is the commander of Naval Oceanography and is the highest-ranking military officer in the state of Mississippi.
“Naval Oceanography’s 2,500 sailors, scientists, engineers, and technicians work in over 20 STEM fields that start on the ocean floor and end to the farthest known star,” said Lt. Cmd. Robert Dixon, Naval Oceanography’s public affairs director.
“Our work ensures that the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense have the freedom of action below, on and above the sea to deter aggression, maintain freedom of the seas, and win wars.”
Dixon said before any ship sets sail, submarine dives, or plane takes off, Naval Oceanography has done the work to ensure that the environment is safe, secure and can be used to the U.S. Navy’s advantage over potential adversaries.
Naval Oceanography has hundreds of hydrographers, the largest collection of hydrographic talent and expertise in the world, at Stennis Space Center. Hydrography is the science of surveying and charting bodies of water.
“Hydrographic survey, and the resulting provision of nautical charts, is the fundamental component which enables our surface and submarine fleet’s unprecedented freedom of maneuver and global access,” said Matthew Borbash, deputy hydrographer of the Navy.
Naval Oceanography operates out of 60 locations around the world and has 14 subordinate commands. The command operates six oceanographic survey vessels, Fleet Weather Centers in Norfolk, Virginia and San Diego, California, a Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, and a U.S. Naval Observatory.
Naval Oceanography maintains and operates an inventory of nearly 200 unmanned underwater vehi¬cles. The unmanned vehicles range from deep sea 6,000-meter vehicles to ocean gliders that collect data within the water column to remotely operated surface vessels, but they all aid in enhancing safety of naviga¬tion for the fleet.
“Our team has developed expertise in unmanned operations over the last two decades. We’ve been using unmanned systems not only to sense the ocean and collect data, such as conductivity, temperature, and depth — which we can then turn into sound propa¬gation models in the ocean — to surveying the ocean floor collecting boundary conditions, not only for navigation purposes, but also to use in modeling ocean dynamics for safe fleet operations,” Piret said.
Piret also said the command is involved with geological work.
“It’s not well known that we have the only operation¬al geology lab in the Navy at Stennis Space Center. We’re experts in analyzing bottom sediment and how that sediment moves, which is critically important when it comes to understanding how a mine on the seafloor would be best detected if it’s been buried,” Piret said.
Dixon said the command has been working hard on making sure more people in Mississippi and around the world understand what goes on at Naval Oceanography.
“Naval Oceanography’s 14 commands have grown their social media presence, put out weekly press releases, and attended dozens of community relations events over the last year in an effort to educate and highlight the important work our 2,500 sailors and civilians do for the public we serve. Our leadership at all levels have become more engaged with their communities and grown their partnerships as a way to build awareness of not just the work we do, but of the opportunities in uniform and out of uniform to those with STEM backgrounds.”
Naval Oceanography Command
Facebook: Naval Oceanography
Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command website