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NEWS | Nov. 6, 2023

From Basic Research to Application: NRL Geophysicist Awarded NDIA Undersea Warfare Bronze Medal Achievement in Science

By Nicholas E. M. Pasquini, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Corporate Communications

Warren Wood, Ph.D., U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Ocean Sciences Division’s Geology and Geophysics section head, received the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Bronze Medal on Sept. 19, 2023 during a ceremony held at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn. for outstanding individual achievement in undersea warfare.
"This award-winning work would not have been possible without fantastic teamwork, especially from the staff in Geology and Geophysics and Acoustic Simulation, Measurements & Tactics Branches,” said Wood. “Essentially a software framework, our Global Predictive Seabed Model, or GPSM, also provides a means of bringing together a broad spectrum of environmental and acoustic specialists. The research is not complete, and we are pushing forward to continually increase our environmental knowledge advantage.”

Wood has a 30-year career at NRL over which he spearheaded new approaches in seafloor sciences with exceptional technical contributions in the area of seabed properties of absorption and scattering affecting acoustic propagation for anti-submarine and mine warfare missions. 

Below the ocean surface, soundwaves are the most practical means of sensing your surroundings or seeing. The soundwaves are bent, reflected, and absorbed to varying degrees by the naturally occurring variations in acoustic properties both throughout the ocean as well as hundreds of meters into the seabed. These environmental variations create complex and changing 3-D patterns of clear and obscured acoustic visibility, and controls how exposed or hidden the U.S. Navy, or adversaries might be at any given time and location.

“NRL’s GPSM predicts seabed geology where it was not directly observed for the Navy to calculate or predict those complex patterns of sound interaction in the marine environment, and in so doing give tactical advantage to our warfighters,” Wood said.

By applying machine learning techniques, Wood demonstrated estimation of sea bottom properties, including: estimates of cold water seeps and expulsions from the sea floor, biogenic methane production in marine sediments, sea floor slope instabilities from global to local scales, and sediment accumulation rates throughout the oceans. 

“Dr. Wood delivers significant new technical developments to estimating sea bottom material composition and roughness properties that are now being incorporated into tactical application for the Navy, such as GPSM,” said Gregg Jacobs, Ph.D., NRL Ocean Dynamics and Prediction branch head. “His work includes collaborations with industry to obtain specialized acoustic survey data, academia to develop and entrain new machine learning techniques, and across Navy organizations to provide technical solution to fundamental problems in operational acoustic applications.”

All of which are contributing physical properties affecting acoustic energy propagating through the ocean and the sea floor. The significant technical achievement in the last year has been the implementation of a new representation of seafloor properties within operational acoustic propagation models used throughout the U.S. Navy. 

The new representation is contained in the GPSM, which provides greatly advanced representation of effects due to bottom absorption, refraction, reflection, and scattering in ocean acoustic problems.  The work has been published in peer-reviewed journals demonstrating the novelty of the work as well as the rigorous acceptance in the critical science review process. 

Many geoacoustic parameters are influenced by marine sediment density; however, much of the seafloor as been unexplored, leaving large geospatial gaps. From existing samples, the techniques relate a wide variety of observed parameters to acoustic properties. Wood’s work applies these relations to other areas of the seafloor that have not been fully sampled. 

The resulting seafloor properties across the globe have been connected to acoustic propagation models.  Accurate acoustic interaction with the ocean bottom has been demonstrated within the last year, Jacobs said. “The data sets are now being integrated into the Ocean / Atmosphere Master Library overseen by the Commander Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command to accept the new global datasets for operational use in tactical decision aids across the fleet.”

In conducting this work, Wood has mentored a team of researchers including postdocs and students in the fundamental science and applying the science to many geophysical problems.  These technical accomplishments have established Wood as a recognized leader in the science community contributing to the undersea warfare technology.

The recent technical accomplishments incorporated into GPSM are a culmination of decades of research and technological advancement led by Wood.  The new model of seafloor properties has a high impact in the area of undersea warfare. His expertise is sought out for geophysics problems involving basic science and technology to implementation into operational systems.

Wood continues to lead the basic research and mentors a strong science team through collaborations with academic institutions internationally, commercial interests, and operators throughout the U.S. Navy. 

About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL is located in Washington, D.C. with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; Key West, Florida; Monterey, California, and employs approximately 3,000 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.
For more information, contact NRL Corporate Communications at (202) 480-3746 or

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