New Research Vessels to Explore Our Oceans

Researchers working on the Island of Crete discovered stone tools indicating ocean exploration capabilities of pre-human ancestors dating to at least 130,000 years ago. Around 4500 BC the Chinese and Greeks began diving into the sea as a source of food gathering and commerce. Yet to date we have only explored five percent of the earths’ oceans. Recently it was announced that two new ocean research ships, the Sikuliaq and the Neil Armstrong, would be set to sail in 2015 and hopefully increase our knowledge of something that plays such an important role in all our lives from the air we breathe to daily weather and climate patterns.

The R/V Sikuliaq has already started operation. It is owned by the National Science Foundation and is operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Sikuliaq is an Inupiaq word meaning young sea ice. The vessel is equipped for operating in ice choked waters. It has a reinforced double hull, rotating thrusters and scalloped propeller blades that will enable it to break through ice up to 2.5 feet thick.

The Sijuliaq will primarily do oceanographic research in polar and sub-polar regions of the world. It will support roughly 500 researchers and students annually and spend up to 270 days per year at sea. It will allow researchers to work in ice-covered waters not previously accessible on a routine basis and play an essential role in our understanding of the Artic Ocean system and how it is changing over time.

The ship is outfitted with the latest technology for oceanographic research, including advanced navigation systems, acoustic mapping systems and sensors, and systems for deploying a wide array of science equipment into and out of the water.

National Science Foundation Director, Subra Suresh said of the Sikuliaq “its capabilities to operate in extreme ecosystems will serve the science and engineering research communities for decades to come, while providing opportunities for educators and students to learn first hand about the arctic environment.”

The Office of Naval Research selected the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to operate the new research vessel Neil Armstrong. The vessel is named after the renowned astronaut and the first man to set foot on the moon. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) President Susan Avery said, “Neil Armstrong is an American hero, whose small step provided humanity with a new perspective on our planet. When he stood on the moon and looked back at the Earth, he saw mostly ocean-the last unexplored frontier on Earth. The R/V Neil Armstrong will carry on its namesake’s legacy of exploration, enabling the next generation of oceanographic science and discovery.”

The R/V Neil Armstrong will serve a pressing need for a new general purpose research vessel based on the East Coast of the United States and will be deployed for a wide variety of oceanographic and ocean engineering missions in tropical and temperate oceans around the world. It is also expected to support new initiatives in ocean observing in high latitudes as well as new efforts to study North Atlantic ecosystems and their sustainability said WHOI vice President for Marine Operations Rob Munier.

The ship will operate with a crew of 20 with accommodations for 24 scientists who will use the ship and its assets to collect samples and data from both coastal and deep ocean areas.

Both the Sikuliaq and the Neil Armstrong are part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, a consortium of 62 academic institutions and national laboratories that share the use of oceanographic research ships.

Photo by Gary McGrath, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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