A Study of US Business Activity in Ocean Measurement, Observation & Forecasting

Why this study?

The ocean enterprise - for profit and not for profit businesses which support ocean measurement, observation and forecasting - is a critical component of maritime commerce and the blue economy. These businesses develop the infrastructure necessary to generate new data and to work with publicly available data to deliver value-added products and services to ensure the safe, responsible, and successful running of maritime commerce. From the instruments that make strides in ocean observing every day to the app that tells a tourist whale-watching expedition if today is a safe day to go out, the ocean enterprise is a significant component of maritime industry. The Ocean Enterprise is rarely recognized as its own because the work they do is widely distributed across a range of disciplines not typically classified as maritime operations. The objective of its publication is to raise visibility and awareness of this important industry cluster, and to better understand its linkages with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) program.


Who is included in this study?

The study encompasses private sector enterprises that are:

  • Providers of infrastructure including:
    • Manufacturers of sensors, instruments and platforms
    • Those building, deploying and operating observing systems
    • Providers of the data infrastructure that manages and communicates ocean data
    • Organizations that develop and maintain the data management systems, software tools and models that are used to turn these data into useful information
  • Intermediaries that make use of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes measurements, observations and models as an input to the creation of value-added information products


What are the major findings of this study?

The second study is currently in the report writing phase with findings expected to be published in Fall of 2020.

Characterizing business activity within this sector is important to understanding the scope and scale of business activity supporting public missions and private sector growth within the overall economy. The first Ocean Enterprise Study did not uncover any major surprises, but there were many interesting findings including the locations, size, and functions of firms in this sector, including:

  • Identifying more than 400 firms in the United States as operating in the sphere of Ocean Enterprise.
    • This includes businesses inland (e.g. Nebraska, Kansas, and Montana) all contributing to the ocean enterprise, but not previously captured by regional studies.
  • The Ocean Enterprise generated $7 billion (USD) in revenue annually
  • 86% of businesses have been operating 5 or more years in the Ocean Enterprise.  More than 54% of them expect growth in their Ocean Enterprise business in the next year.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Ocean Enterprise?

The 'Ocean Enterprise'; defined as for profit and not for profit businesses which support ocean measurement, observation and forecasting. The objective of its publication is to raise visibility and awareness of this important industry cluster, and understanding of its linkages with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) program.

The Ocean Enterprise is termed as an analog to the “Weather Enterprise,” a term that has been in use for over a decade and helps highlight the contributions of groups providing information, services, and infrastructure in the areas of weather, water, and climate. Here we have defined the scope narrowly to include only those private sector elements because we believe it is a significant enterprise, both publicly and privately, but overall have very little information about private sector contributions and partnerships overall.

Why did you do this study?

The ocean enterprise is an important source of domestic revenue, but for various reasons has never truly been assessed on its own. The US IOOS program wanted to analyze the size and scope of this growing industry to help both the public and private sector engage more meaningfully, appropriately, and profitably with ocean enterprise, and by doing so spur U.S. domestic [and global] economic growth in this rich market and provide better answers to societal issues such as safety of life and property, agricultural productivity, and ecosystem services.

Who did this study and how was the study run?

In FY2014, this study was funded by the U.S. IOOS program which is within the NOAA’s National Ocean Service. IOOS contracted with ERISS Corporation and The Maritime Alliance to execute the study designed to describe the general size and characteristics of the private and nonprofit businesses functioning as providers or intermediaries in the Ocean Enterprise.

Starting in 2013, the project team developed a definition of the Ocean Enterprise for the purposes of this study and then generated lists of likely companies within scope of the Ocean Enterprise. Through 2014, the team developed a web based survey, received OMB Paperwork Reduction Act clearance, and gathered a large list of possible companies (view the list here). From there, they began researching and drilling down to a master list of companies doing business within the scope of this study. Nine companies were initially approached to provide qualitative information to refine the web survey instrument. The survey questions were released on the web and to identified companies via email in April 2015. The survey period closed on June 30, 2015 and the analysis and writing work began with close collaboration from all sponsors. The report was finalized and released to the public in February 2016.

What was your methodology?

The 2015 study includes for profit and not for profit businesses who are either providers or intermediaries within the Ocean Enterprise. The added revenue from end-users and impact value within end-user applications was not assessed. Once companies were identified, they were asked survey questions (Appendix B of the study) which included questions about revenue and job numbers.

The 2020 study has expanded its methodology to include companies not previously considered.

How does this benefit private companies--do they have any incentive to contribute or help this study thrive?

This study benefits private companies by bringing their business into the spotlight. In the UK, where a similar study is conducted annually, the sentiment is overwhelmingly positive as the study helps bring attention and interest to these firms and the products and services they offer. Toward the end of the study period, when asked by the project lead what benefit the study might provide to the companies who participate in the study, one large U.S. company CEO answered “we think it is great. Any attention on this sector is a good thing from our perspective because it highlights our business.” Another benefit of the study is that better information about this sector of the economy will increase partnering opportunities among the companies in this sector.

I don’t live on a coast. Is this relevant to my community?

Yes--see the map (ES-2; Fig. 9) . We identified companies involved in the ocean enterprise sector all over the US, including non-coastal states. Tech development and developing products from data are coast agnostic--these study results are relevant everywhere.

How does this compare with the findings of other studies?

The only other directly comparable study is an annual survey of providers and intermediaries undertaken in the UK. This study is based on the survey of companies attending relevant trade exhibitions. Within the U.S., there have been geographic cluster studies, but nothing on the national level.

What does an annual revenue of $7 billion (USD) really mean-- can you put that in context for me?

* $7B is .04% of the 2014 US GDP of $17,419B (Source)

* $7B is about the same size as the GDP of the Bahamas (Source); Togo (Source: International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 18 April 2013), or Barbados (Source: International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 18 April 2013)

* The NFL made $7.24 billion in revenues in Fiscal Year 2015 (Source: Fox Sports, ESPN, others)

* $7.5 billion American greeting card industry (Source: Small Business Development Center)

Are you going to repeat this study in the future? My company is a provider/intermediary, and I’d like to be contacted to participate.

Yes, we are repeating the study in 2020. The study opened on March 31 and results should be published in the Fall.

You can check the list of companies who were invited to participate in the first study at this link. If you don't see your company listed, please drop us a line and let us know at


2015 Ocean Enterprise Study Downloads

Download the full report

Download the 2-pager

Additional 2015 Ocean Enterprise Study Documentation

Year 1 Report (pdf)

Ocean Enterprise Study - 2 Page Summary (pdf)


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Access the 2020 study at: