Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

James G. Bellingham
Chief Technologist

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
7700 Sandholdt Road
Moss Landing, CA 95039

Photo by Greg Pio


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D., Physics Sept 1988
Massachusetts Institute of Technology S.M., Physics Sept 1984
Massachusetts Institute of Technology S.B., Physics Sept 1984

My current CV

Professional Biography:

From 1998 until 2006 I was Director of Engineering, responsible for MBARI's Engineering Department.  In 2006 I stepped away from Director of Engineering to return to full time research.    I currently run the AUV lab at MBARI.  My group conceptualizes and develops Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), creates the necessary technologies to maximize their capabilities, and teams with scientists in the operation of the vehicles in science field programs. 

MBARI attracted me because the creation of new technologies and systems for ocean science figures prominently in our charter.  For my laboratory, identifying a scientific need and demonstrating a technical solution is just the beginning; the larger challenge revolves around transitioning that capability to widespread use.  Consequently our efforts are not confined to one "slice" of the technology maturity spectrum.  Once we identify a promising technical approach, we follow through as far as necessary to achieve adoption within MBARI and ultimately by the wider community. 

My principle method is teaming with scientists to carry out high-impact experiments and build communities of interest.  The process can take a long time, but in my judgment it results in greater impact.  I've been fortunate to team with engineers who take an idea from the back of the envelope to a reliable ocean system, with scientists eager to use new technical capabilities to address tough science problems, and with a Marine Operations Division capable of turning a prototype system into an operational capability.  Most of all, I've been fortunate to work with the outstanding group of individuals in my laboratory


Current activities in my laboratory include AUVs with greatly extended range and endurance, quantitative experiment design, adaptive sampling, and data systems for real-time experiment management. These technical thrusts focused on enabling a new generation of more quantitative biological process experiments. It is best understood in the context of the CANON project, and the AOSN activity that was my earlier focus.

My lab’s biological process experiment-centric activity is in its early stages, and will occupy us for the foreseeable future. This is a collaborative venture with the CANON PIs and their labs. Work currently falls into four categories; development of quantitative metrics for observation performance, development of technology for multi-platform experiments, classification schemes for in situ biological measurements, and collaboratively conducting field experiments. Quantitative performance metrics, like those we developed for physical process experiments, will be a significant focus of effort. This involves a steep learning curve for me – physical oceanography was comparatively close to my physics roots. Learning relevant elements of genomic and bioinformatics is a real challenge. However, the development of quantitative tools will provide the foundation for all other work.

Using a suite of vehicles with complementary capabilities provides unique observational capabilities. Different combinations of AUVs, surface platforms, ships, drifters and so on are all possible and are being experimented with. Our near-term objectives revolve around obtaining unambiguous time series of aggregations of marine organisms relative to themselves and to ocean features.

Recent articles



Transition of the technology created in the laboratory is a high priority. The strategy taken depends on the nature of the technology in question. Of course publishing results is necessary, but it is not always sufficient. In the past I have licensed technology to existing companies, made technology freely available, and started companies to commercialize technology.

For the ALTEX vehicle, which became Dorado, I took a two pronged approach to transition within MBARI; building AUV expertise within the Engineering Department, and achieving a rapid hand-off to the Marine Operations Division (DMO). Dorado built on activity started in my MIT lab, and consequently transitioned fairly rapidly. DMO ownership of the Dorado made the vehicles accessible within MBARI, and the engineering capability made continued improvement and even new vehicles possible without my lab. Today Dorado variants are used extensively by MBARI PIs for water column observations and seafloor mapping. Outside MBARI, Bluefin Robotics (a company now owned by Battelle that I co-founded before joining MBARI) licensed the basic ALTEX vehicle, which also started development at MIT. Descendants of the ALTEX vehicle are now used for such diverse activities as searching for Amelia Earhart’s aircraft, deep-water oil and gas surveys, finding mines, and for ocean science uses including operations under ice by Alfred Wegner Institute.

At present, the Tethys Long Range AUV is a particular focus of transition effort. At present we are embarking on a build of three vehicles under NSF funding with the Scholin laboratory. These systems will be delivered to and operated by University of Hawaii.

Public service

My public activities include serving on and occasionally chairing review committees, advisory panels and boards, as well as a number of studies. I also have assisted operational activities of government entities on ad hoc basis.

At present, I am Chair of the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), the senior scientific advisory group to the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Chief of Naval Research. I have been Chair or Vice Chair of six NRAC studies since 2007, and assumed the NRAC Chair position in 2012. I am the only member of NRAC with an ocean science background. Recent Navy committee organization changes are resulting in my appointment to the Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Panel (SNAP).

I have participated in a number of laboratory reviews, including chairing a review of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (2010), and chairing a review of the Naval Research Laboratory, as an element of a review of the entire Naval R&D Enterprise (2010). I also served on the review committee for the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (2009). I’ve served on a total of four National Academy studies, listed on my CV, including the 2011 “Critical Infrastructure for Ocean Research and Societal Needs in 2030.” Other advisory groups and boards of which I am a member include those for MIT’s Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling, part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Science and Technology, (SMART CENSAM), and MARUM at the University of Bremen.

Last updated: Dec. 09, 2013