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Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet

  • Author(s): Saltzman, ES;
  • Glickson, D;
  • Kiss, R;
  • Pittenger, R;
  • Chavez, F;
  • Edwards, M;
  • Fine, RA;
  • Rabalais, NN;
  • Swift, JH;
  • Wilcock, WS;
  • Yoerger, D
  • et al.

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Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

The National Research Council’s Committee on the Evolution of the National Oceanographic Research Fleet reviewed scientific and technological issues that could affect the evolution of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) academic fleet. They examined a number of factors including: the impacts of advanced technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and ocean observing systems, on the role and characteristics of the future fleet with regard to national oceanographic data collection objectives; the most important factors in research vessel design, and whether specialized needs would dominate design criteria of newly built ships; the impacts of evolving modeling and remote sensing approaches on research operations, including ground-truthing and observation; the impact of rising costs of research vessel operations on the ability to conduct oceanographic research in the future; and the usefulness of partnering mechanisms, such as UNOLS, to support national oceanographic research objectives. The committee found that the U.S. academic research fleet is an essential national resource. Oceanographers are embracing a host of remote technologies that can facilitate the collection of data over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales, but will continue to require capable, adaptable research vessels for access to the sea as scientific demands on the fleet increase. The future fleet will be required to support increasingly complex, multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research projects in support of autonomous technologies, ocean observing systems, process studies, remote sensing, and modeling. Emerging technologies will impact future vessel design requirements for acoustic communications, deck space, payload, berthing, launch and recovery, and stability. There is also need for increased ship-to-shore bandwidth, in order to facilitate real-time, shore-based modeling and data analysis in support of underway programs, and allow participation of shore-based scientists. Maintaining U.S. leadership in ocean research will require investing in larger and more capable general purpose Global and Regional class ships to support multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research and advances in ocean technology; involving the scientific community in all phases of ship design and acquisition for future UNOLS ship acquisitions; and improving coordination between the various U.S. federal agencies that operate research fleets. Agencies supporting oceanographic research should also consider implementing one comprehensive, long-term research fleet renewal plan.

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