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Frequently Asked Questions

What does CWATER stand for?

CWATER = Complex for Waterfront Access to Exploration and Research

What is the CWATER project?

CWATER will replace the aging 52-year-old Iselin Marine Facility, which consists of a dock and adjacent shops and laboratories, in Woods Hole village. The new complex will provide access to the sea for the remainder of this century, maintaining WHOI’s position as the area’s anchor oceanographic institution and continue the region’s leadership in ocean science for the global good.

What are the elements of the project?
  • A new, innovative, sea level rise-ready dock design will serve as the home port for WHOI’s three oceangoing research vessels, accommodate in-water testing, enable small boat access and provide a means for deploying robotic vehicles.
  • A new waterfront building housing shops and laboratories, with direct access to the dock for mobilization and testing.

A concept for a public component is under development. The goal is to provide a portal into how ocean science and engineering is done, including dedicated indoor and outdoor spaces.

Why does the Iselin Facility need to be replaced?

The Iselin Marine Facility was constructed in 1969 and has reached the end of its 50-year design life. Over the course of its lifespan, sections of the concrete deck have been repaired and replaced, but such efforts are not sustainable. In addition, it is anticipated that the existing dock will be susceptible to flooding due to sea level rise and an increase in the frequency of storms, so we are needing to replace and rebuild the Iselin Marine Facility and buildings. This project will provide a modern and resilient marine support facility that will serve oceanographic needs for the next century.

Why is this important?

There can be no oceanography without access to the sea and the CWATER Project is going to be the key enabler.

The current Iselin Marine Facility has enabled decades of ocean exploration, education, discovery, and innovation by the U.S. research community. Expeditions, vehicles, and sensors launched from Iselin span the global ocean: They monitor the health of the marine environment; reveal the ocean’s role in weather and climate; inform policies to protect ocean life, marine ecosystems, and coastal communities; and enable the sustainable use of ocean resources to meet essential food, energy, resource, and national security priorities.

Replacing the Iselin Marine Facility with a more modern and resilient port facility will help WHOI maintain its position as a leader in ocean research, bolster the Blue Tech Economy, and allow the Commonwealth, Town of Falmouth, and Village of Woods Hole to continue to derive the associated economic benefits.

What are WHOI’s economic contributions?
  • WHOI is the recipient of over $200 million federal dollars annually, leads the state in National Science Foundation funding and is the 5th largest recipient of NSF funding nationally.
  • WHOI’s operations translate to 3,898 jobs, $186.5 million in wages, $333.7 million value added to Gross Domestic Product, and supports $603.8 million in business revenue annually.
  • The Blue Tech Economy contributes $2.6 billion in earnings and supports nearly 25,000 ocean-related jobs in Massachusetts, four percent of which are with WHOI.
  • Regionally, WHOI is the second largest employer on Cape Cod (after Cape Cod Healthcare), and supports the region in coastal planning, resource management, and habitat protection, while also being a significant contributor to the growing national security R&D base.
What specific public benefits will the project deliver?

WHOI provides direct access to its science and research efforts through public tours, seminars, events (science stroll) and even its data. It is our goal to design and deliver a publicly accessible waterfront common area and an indoor, interpretive experience and meeting space, pending funding.

How much will the project cost and who is paying for it?

While we have not bid the project to date, WHOI expects to invest approximately $100M in this project. This demonstrates WHOI’s commitment to Woods Hole village as well as to continuing to be a leader in global oceanography far into the 21st century. It is anticipated that the project will be funded through a mix of philanthropic, state, and federal funding sources.

What is the anticipated length of the construction period, and will construction be during the summer months?

The project is complicated and will include multiple phases to complete—it is anticipated that the overall construction duration will last approximately 3 years assuming available funds. WHOI anticipates conducting work on the site in all months of the year.

What is next for the project?

Currently, the design is 30% developed. Following review by the Falmouth Conservation Commission, the design will continue to develop toward a set of “shovel-ready” design documents that are ready to be distributed to Construction firms for final bidding. The intent is to have the design documentation completed by Q2 2022. In parallel, WHOI is aggressively pursuing funding for the project.

What are the specs of the new building?

We are finalizing the plans on the new Waterfront Building, but it will be moved landward outside of the FEMA V-zone and elevated above the FEMA Base Flood Elevation (12’ NAVD 88) and fully compliant with all FEMA requirements. Specific building design details are currently under development. 

How tall will the new building be?

We are finalizing the plans on the new Waterfront Building, but it will be moved landward outside of the FEMA V-zone and elevated above the FEMA Base Flood Elevation (12’ NAVD 88) and fully compliant with all FEMA requirements. Specific building design details are currently under development. 

What are some of the climate resilient designs of the new project?

Climate resilient solutions will be designed and built into this new complex including mitigating the effects of sea level rise (SLR) and storm surge. Mechanical and building systems will be elevated out of the floodplain, the building will incorporate solar panels, and high efficiency construction techniques including multi-pane glazing, thermally broken envelope, solar shading to reduce heat load in the summer and optimize thermal gain in the winter, and minimize overall energy use intensity (amount of energy used per square foot of space). Additionally, building materials will be selected to reduce the amount of embodied carbon (carbon used to source and create the materials) and the overall building square footage is being reduced and replaced with a more efficient building design.

How will the project anticipate sea level rise?

WHOI has engaged Woods Hole Group, Moffatt & Nichol, as well as its internal expertise to project the potential impacts of sea level rise over the target lifespan of the facility. Current planning is for the new dock to be 2½ feet higher than the existing dock, with the future option of either laying another dock surface on top to adapt to higher sea levels beyond that height or incorporate an innovative system to hydraulically lift the deck to accommodate changes in sea level.

How is WHOI collaborating with its partner institutions, businesses, and community members in Woods Hole Village?

WHOI, Marine Biological Lab (MBL) and NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center are partnering on a collaborative design effort called ResilientWoodsHole to identify and quantify risks associated with storm-related events and sea level rise in the Village of Woods Hole.

This partnership is focused on identifying and developing a series of near-term resiliency strategies that can reduce the impacts of storm-related events and sea level rise, and serve as a baseline for other adjacent structures in Woods Hole to leverage in development of a comprehensive resiliency approach for the Village of Woods Hole.

Learn more here:

  • Resilient Woods Hole- a partnership between WHOI, MBL and NOAA
    • Successful Phase 1 (Woods Hole Village Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Plan (
    • Expanded effort into a currently underway Phase 2.
    • Phase 3 was just funded by a MA Coastal Resiliency Grant (
What is the project footprint?

The CWATER footprint replicates the current dock, and reconfigures the eastern face of the bulkhead to better accommodate vessel berthing while also widening the opening into the Eel Pond channel.   

How are we dealing with storm water?

The project will include a comprehensive stormwater management system that will utilize landscape design features and other Best Management Practices to gather and remove sediments from stormwater prior to discharge. With the proposed stormwater management improvements, along with an overall reduction in impervious surfaces, the project will improve the stormwater quality as compared to existing conditions.

What new features are we using to modernize the facility?

The CWATER facility is being designed to accommodate lessons learned from WHOI’s 91-years of experience with ocean-going oceanographic experience. Much has changed since the Bigelow building was first constructed on the waterfront in 1930. Advances in program requirements, autonomous systems requirements, as well as continued evolution of global technology such as HUV Alvin and RUV Jason are driving the need for modernized facilities that continue to support and enable oceanographic research into the next decade. Keys to modernization include modular building systems, adaptable infrastructure, and resilient approaches to design enabling seamless operation into an unpredictable future.

How will this project affect the Eel Pond channel access, currents and waterflow?

The project is designed to limit impacts to the Eel Pond channel access. In fact, the minor dock shape revisions will increase the width of the channel at its largest point. The revisions will enable WHOI to improve berthing, mobilization, and scheduling for WHOI’s Global and Coastal research vessels. Potential impact to water circulation was evaluated during the MEPA permitting process in response to a question raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The analysis conducted in response to that question concluded that the replacement dock pile field is expected to have no noticeable change in water flow beneath the dock as compared to existing conditions.