Scientific Advisory Board

We are thrilled to have such an extraordinary Scientific Advisory Board to offer its insights and guidance to the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. These leaders in their fields are contributing their broad expertise to ensure maximum rigor in this competition.

Steve Keedwell

Global SME for AUV, Royal Dutch Shell

Steve Keedwell is currently the Team Leader for Geomatics Operations in Malaysia, and the Shell global Geomatics Operations Subject Matter Expert for Subsea Operations. Steve joined Shell in 2007 assigned to Shell’s deepwater company in Nigeria, where he undertook deepwater and nearshore surveys, notably the first deployment of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) to inspect pipelines. For this work Steve was awarded the Shell Petroleum Engineering and Development 2011 Goal Zero Champion. His most recent achievement was supporting the first deepwater Ocean Bottom Node seismic survey in Malaysia. During the survey he spent time offshore using cutting edge survey technology to position subsea nodes using a combination of underwater lasers and inertial navigation systems. A passion for developing and implementing innovative technology, Steve has supported his team in the deployment of Unmanned Aerial Systems and within the Shell Group contributes to the Geomatics Operations Network, sharing his knowledge and actively participating in discussions. Prior to joining Shell Steve was the Subsea Engineering Manager for the Geocon Group (Now RPS Energy) and began his career in civil construction as an engineer for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company. Prior to moving to joining Shell and moving to Nigeria Steve was the Secretary for the Southwest UK Hydrographic Society. He has published papers both internally and externally of Shell. During his career Steve has worked in the Caribbean, Central America, West Africa, Middle East, Russian Far East and Australia. Projects undertaken have included surveys for detection and clearance of Unexploded Ordinance, geotechnical and geophysical surveys in sensitive habitats and providing innovative solutions to acquire offshore survey data. Steve attended the University of Plymouth where he read Underwater Studies and for his thesis he studied the Liberty vessel famous UK diving wreck ‘James Eagan Layne’. During his research he traced the descendants of ‘James Eagan Layne’ culminating in a visit by the Eagan Layne family to see the wreck via ROV video, attracting UK media attention. Steve is currently the Shell Parent Representative Governor serving on the Board for Tenby International School Miri.

Alan P. Leonardi, Ph.D.

Director, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration & Research

Alan Leonardi leads a team responsible for providing direction to NOAA and the U.S. Department of Commerce in the field of ocean exploration, research, and advanced technology development. A key element in the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research’s portfolio is the expeditionary exploration activities, which combine the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer and high-speed networks and infrastructure for live communications - including high-definition video of the seafloor - to scientists and other audiences ashore. It is the only federal program dedicated to systematic telepresence-enabled exploration of the world ocean.

A meteorologist and oceanographer, Leonardi has been with NOAA since 2003. Previous roles include Program Manager for NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Program; Deputy Director of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation within NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; and Deputy Director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

Leonardi earned his undergraduate degree in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and his master’s and doctorate degrees in physical oceanography from the Florida State University.

Leonardi was awarded the Department of Commerce Silver Medal for his leadership efforts fostering a partnership with Google on the development and deployment of NOAA data and information in Google’s popular Google Earth platform.

Dennis Nixon

Professor of Marine Affairs Dennis Nixon has served as the Director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program since July 2013.  In that role, he leads a multi-million dollar research and education program devoted to using scientific knowledge to improve the management of Rhode Island’s coastal waters.  Prior to that, he served for four years as the Associate Dean for Research and Administration at the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, where he was responsible for the administration of the 200+ acre campus, pier, and the 185’ Research Vessel Endeavor.  He served the previous 8 years as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, also at the University of Rhode Island.   He has been a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island for the past 40 years, teaching courses in the area of marine and coastal law.  He is particularly proud of the thousands of former students now working in marine industries, government, law and science.

A marine lawyer by training, he is a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and the Rhode Island Bar.  He is the Secretary and General Counsel for the Point Club, a fishing vessel insurance cooperative he helped found 30 years ago. He is one of the three founders of the International Marina Institute, which provides educational programs and certification for professionals in the marine industry around the world.  Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, he is also the legal advisor and risk manager for the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System, and has been providing advice to all of the US academic research vessel fleet for the past 28 years.  He has lectured on marine law topics in 27 states and 26 countries on 6 continents.  He is the author of over 50 articles and the casebook Marine and Coastal Law, first published in 1994 and released in a second edition in 2010.

Professor Nixon earned his Bachelor’s degree in history at Xavier University, his law degree at the University of Cincinnati, a Master of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island, a Certificate on International Institutions at the University of Geneva, and a Certificate in Ocean Law from Harvard Law School.  He is an avid sailor on vessels of all sizes, and races his own boat weekly on Narragansett Bay.


Ralph Rayner

Sector Director, BMT Group Limited

Ralph Rayner is Sector Director, Energy and Environment for BMT Group Limited and Chairman of Sonardyne International Limited. He is also a Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics. In addition to these roles Ralph is a Trustee of Plymouth Marine Laboratory and chairs the Plymouth Marine Laboratory Science Advisory Council as well as serving as industry liaison for the US Integrated Ocean Observing System.

Ralph has a BSc in biology, an MSc in underwater science and technology and a PhD in physical oceanography. During his career he has been responsible for the development of a number of leading service companies providing systems and consultancy to the oil, gas and renewable energy industries worldwide. Ralph has authored numerous scientific and technical papers and reports, is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Operational Oceanography and serves on the editorial boards of International Underwater Systems Design and the Journal of the Society for Underwater Technology.

Malcolm Ross

Geologist and Marine Geophysicist

Malcolm Ross is an experienced Geologist and Marine Geophysicist with a long history of designing, developing and applying Geographic Information System Tools to solve a broad range of complex spatial and geological problems. He has broad experience in application of those tools, in university settings, at startups, and at major corporations. He is currently working in the GameChanger™ team Shell, looking for revolutionary high-risk, high-reward, high-failure-rate ideas that will have substantial impact of the energy future of Shell. He holds a PhD from Rice University and a MS from the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. He also holds an adjunct faculty position in the Department of Earth Sciences at Rice University where he teaches at least one course per semester.

Christopher Sabine

Director of Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, NOAA

Christopher L. Sabine is director of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, WA and an affiliate faculty at the University of Washington School of Oceanography. Sabine received his PhD in chemical oceanography from the University of Hawaii in 1992. Since that time he has published over 120 articles and book chapters. His current research focuses on the global carbon cycle, the role of the ocean in absorbing CO2 released from human activity, and ocean acidification. He has won numerous awards including a Gold Medal Award for pioneering research leading to the discovery of increased acidification in the world’s ocean.

Brian Skerry


Brian Skerry is a photojournalist specializing in marine wildlife and underwater environments. Since 1998 he has been a contract photographer for National Geographic Magazine covering a wide range of subjects and stories. In 2014 he was named a National Geographic Photography Fellow.

An award-winning photographer, Brian is praised worldwide for his aesthetic sense as well as his journalistic drive for relevance. His uniquely-creative images tell stories that not only celebrate the mystery and beauty of the sea, but also help bring attention to the large number of issues that endanger our oceans and its inhabitants.

His year-round assignment schedule frequently finds himself in environments of extreme contrast from tropical coral reefs to diving beneath polar ice. While on assignment he has lived on the bottom of the sea, spent months aboard fishing boats and traveled in everything from snowmobiles to canoes to the Goodyear Blimp to get the picture. He has spent more than 10,000 hours underwater in his career.

For NGM, Brian has covered a wide range of stories, from the harp seal’s struggle to survive in frozen waters to the alarming decrease in the world’s fisheries to dolphin intelligence, all cover stories. His latest work is an unprecedented three consecutive feature stories about predatory sharks, published in June, July and August of 2016. Other features have focused on subjects such as the planet's last remaining pristine coral reefs, the plight of the right whale, marine reserves, sea turtles and squid. He is currently at work on his 27th story for NGM.

Brian has also worked on assignment for or had images featured in magazines such as Sports Illustrated, US News and World Report, BBC Wildlife, GEO, Smithsonian, Esquire, Audubon, Men's Journal. His latest monograph, Ocean Soul, has received worldwide acclaim.

Brian frequently lectures on photography and conservation issues having presented at venues such as The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, TED Talks, The National Press Club in Washington, DC, The Royal Geographical Society in London and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. He’s been a guest on programs such as NBC’s TODAY Show, CBS’s This Morning and ABC’s Good Morning America. He is also the Explorer-In-Residence at the New England Aquarium.

Brian is a 10-time award winner in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition including sweeping the Underwater Category in 2008, winning First, Second and Third place awards. He has also won awards from Pictures of the Year International, Nature’s Best, Communication Arts is the only photographer to win the coveted Peter Benchley Ward for Excellence in Media. In 2010 National Geographic magazine named one of Brian’s images among their 50 Greatest Photographs Of All Time. He has had recent exhibits at Visa Pour l’Image in Perpignan, France as well as cities such as Geneva, Barcelona, Lisbon and Shanghai. An exhibit of Brian’s work is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Brian is the Explorer-In-Residence at the New England Aquarium, a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, Director of The New England Ocean Odyssey for The Conservation Law Foundation and a Fellow National of The Explorers Club. He also serves as a Marine Fellow with Conservation International, serves on the World Wildlife Fund’s National Council and the WWF’s Marine Leadership Council and on the Board of Directors of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

Dirk Smit

Vice President R&D Exploration Technology, Chairman Shell Science Council, Chief Scientist Geophysics

Dirk graduated from Utrecht University in 1989 with a PhD in Mathematical Physics, String Theory. He went on to complete an academic post-doctorate at Berkeley and was awarded a post-doctorate at Harvard University. He joined Shell’s Geophysics R&D department in the Netherlands in 1992.

Since then he has held numerous positions, including Chief Geophysicist for Shell UK and Technology Manager for Hydrocarbon Exploration.

Dirk holds several positions outside Shell: a visiting faculty position at the Earth Science department at MIT in Cambridge, as well as a visiting professorship in Geoscience at the Chinese University of Petroleum in Beijing. He serves on numerous university advisory boards in The Netherlands, China and US. Dirk served as a member of the National Research Council on Solid Earth Observations in the US and is currently a member of the National Dutch Science Board for Basic Science Research in the Netherlands.

In his spare time, Dirk is an amateur astronomer and, together with his son, enjoys searching the deep skies through an 11 inch SCT (telescope) during long, Dutch, winter nights.

Dr. Richard W. Spinrad

Chief Scientist, NOAA

Dr. Richard W. (Rick) Spinrad was appointed by President Obama as Chief Scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in May 2014. An internationally recognized scientist and executive with more than 35 years of experience in government, the private sector, academia and a nongovernmental organization, Spinrad has extensive understanding of environmental research, management, and teaching. He served previously as vice president for research at Oregon State University, and was the head of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Ocean Service where he was a leader in the development of the nation’s firstever ocean research priorities strategy. As Technical Director to the Oceanographer of the U.S. Navy and Division Director at the U.S. Office of Naval Research he established priorities for the U.S. Navy investment in application of oceanographic and meteorological products to fleet operations. Dr. Spinrad was President of Sea Tech, Inc., and he served as executive director for research and education at the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, Inc. (CORE, now the Consortium for Ocean Leadership). Spinrad has published extensively in preeminent peer-reviewed journals, was on the faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy, George Mason University, and Oregon State University. He has been awarded highest honors from three international professional societies, and has been recognized with the highest awards from the U.S. Government including two Presidential Rank Awards (from Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama), and the Distinguished Civilian Service Award from the U.S. Navy. Dr. Spinrad served as President of the Oceanography Society, and was elected President of the Marine Technology Society. He received a Chartered Marine Scientist certificate from the Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology in London, England. His B.A. in earth and planetary sciences is from The Johns Hopkins University and his M.S. and Ph.D. both in oceanography are from Oregon State University.

Dawn Wright

Chief Scientist, ESRI

Dr. Dawn Wright is chief scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (aka Esri), a world-leading geographic information system (GIS) software, research and development company. As chief scientist, Dr. Wright is charged with strengthening the scientific foundation for Esri software and services, while representing Esri to the national and international scientific community. She maintains an affiliated faculty appointment as Professor of Geography and Oceanography at Oregon State University. She has authored or co-authored more than 130 articles and six books on marine geographic information systems, hydrothermal activity and tectonics of mid-ocean ridges, and ocean informatics. Dr. Wright has participated in over 20 oceanographic research expeditions worldwide, including 10 legs of the Ocean Drilling Program, three dives in the deep submergence vehicle Alvin and twice in the Pisces V. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as a fellow of Stanford University's Leopold Leadership Program. Dr. Wright holds an Individual Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Physical Geography and Marine Geology from UCSB, an M.S. in Oceanography from Texas A&M, and a B.S. cum laude in Geology from Wheaton College (Illinois). Other interests include road cycling, 18th-century pirates, apricot green tea gummy bears, her dog Sally, and SpongeBob Squarepants.

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