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Oceanographic research vessels: then, now, and in the future.

The coastal zone is a region of transition between the land and sea. The US Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coastlines total 88,633 miles, and an additional 10,980 miles of coastline borders the Great Lakes. About 80 percent of the US population lives within an hour's drive of the shore. These numbers attest to the importance of coastal marine science: In order to grapple with the great diversity of conflicting activities within this region, a well-ordered research program is essential.

As upon the open sea, the oceanographer's chief tool for studying this region is the research vessel. Before World War II, most research vessels were limited to coastal service by their small sizes. Typically these vessels were converted fishing boats or pleasure yachts, pressed into serving the developing needs of science investigators. The early 1960s witnessed the "Golden Era" of American oceanography. Encouraged by the National Academy of Science, oceanographic science focused on blue-water (or deep-sea) research, and a number of larger ocean-going research vessels were built. During this period, little attention was paid to specific coastal science needs, and small research vessels were primarily ships inherited from the World War II era and earlier.

With growing environmental awareness in the late 1960s and early 1970s, considerable research interest turned toward the coastal zone, where there were concerns about water quality, population increase, fisheries health, oil production, and the effects of recreation. The coasts came to be regarded as highly vulnerable, if not fragile, areas.

The President's Commission on Marine Sciences (the Stratton Commission) Report of 1970 gave special attention to the coastal zone and the facilities to serve it. As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) were organized, and the term "coastal zone management" came into use.

UNOLS is an association of 56 ocean science research institutions that operate and use the 26 vessels in the US academic research fleet. The association's goal is to assist in the coordination and scheduling of ships and equipment to make efficient use of finite resources. UNOLS is also charged with advising federal funding agencies on future facility requirements for oceanographic research.

At the first UNOLS meeting in 1972, critical facility needs were defined. Capable coastal research vessels were high on the list, and a subcommittee was appointed to examine the needs for coastal zone research facilities. The subcommittee's chief recommendations included modern, capable, coastal research vessels assigned and operated on a "regional" basis. From this emerged the Cape-class vessels (R/Vs Cape Hatteras, Point Sur, and Cape Henlopen assigned respectively to the Duke University/University of North Carolina Oceanographic Consortium, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, and the University of Delaware). To make these facilities more available, consortia were formed to coordinate and participate in the vessels' operation.

In the early 1980s, the US oceanographic community faced a crisis as most large ocean research ships (longer than 51 meters) were either at or were approaching the end of their useful service lives, and some intermediate size (45 to 61 meters) ships would soon need mid-life refits. All of the UNOLS university ships were inadequate for the next set of global oceanographic tasks such as the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, Joint Global Ocean Flux Study, Ridge Inter-Disciplinary Global Experiments, and other large-scale research projects being planned. Through the UNOLS fleet-improvement committee and other vehicles, the community galvanized to action. They assembled a fleet-improvement plan that gained the support of the National Science Foundation, the Oceanographer of the Navy, the Office of Naval Research, and Congress. The plan, completed in 1990, called for the following: * R/V Conrad was replaced

by R/V

Ewing (operated

by, the Lamont-Doherty Earth

Observatory of

Columbia University). * R/Vs Knorr and

Melville (operated

respectively by the Woods

Hole Oceanographic Institution,

WHOI, and the Scripps

Institution of Oceanography

at the University of California,

San Diego) were lengthened,

re-engined, and

modernized. The upgrades

have been highly successful. * The purchase of three new

Agor 23-class vessels by the

Navy as replacements for research

vessels Thompson,

Washington, and Atlantis II

(operated by the University

of Washington, Scripps, and

WHOI). Agor-23 is finished

and operational, Agor-24 is being

built, and Agor-25 will be

built starting in 1994. * R/Vs Oceanus, Wecoma, and

Endeavor (operated by WHOI,

Oregon State University, and

the University of Rhode

Island) have begun mid-life

upgrades. * Plans to design and build an

arctic research vessel are under

way. The large so-called "blue-water fleet" is now in excellent shape for the next 25 years.

While these vessels can do considerable near-shore research, there is currently a need for specialized vessels and other infrastructure to support coastal zone research. Demands now being placed on the few existing coastal research vessels far outweigh the ships' capabilities.

Recognizing the need for a thorough review of the nation's infrastructure to support coastal research and monitoring, the National Science Foundation sponsored a three-day workshop in February 1993, hosted by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The conference brought together 76 scientists and marine operators from major coastal laboratories, as well as representatives from government agencies. Although the coastal regimes and scientific disciplines represented at the meeting were widely diverse, all agreed that modern, capable, coastal research facilities are urgently needed. Coastal research and monitoring need to be improved beyond previous measures for several reasons: * Population pressure:

46 percent of the

US population now lives

within the coastal zone, and

80 percent lives within 50

miles of a coast (including the

Great Lakes). * Commercial and pleasure

uses of the coastal zone are

increasing. * Fisheries are endangered. * Continued use of nonrenewable

resources will bring a

greater need to exploit offshore

minerals and oil. * Pollution assessment, monitoring,

and remediation are

receiving more attention and

funding. * The US Navy is changing its

focus to concentrate on regional,

littoral, coastal regions

rather than on the traditional

blue-water mission of the

Cold War.

The conference concluded that while modern ships will continue to be the primary tool of the coastal oceanographer, other research and monitoring facilities are essential if we are to better understand our coasts and estuaries. These include aircraft equipped with remote-sensing instrumentation, satellites with both optical and radiometric sensors, moored arrays, fixed platforms and piers, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), communication links with all the above, and improved data-processing and information-management systems. As expected, the conference's principal focus was on research vessels. There was no consensus on the single type or even size of "ideal ship" for coastal research. Regional needs vary, and a vessel for estuarine research can be vastly different from one suitable for winter operations on the continental shelf. There was, however, general agreement for some criteria applicable to all modern coastal vessels, such as improved seakeeping and station keeping (ability to operate comforably at higher sea states), shallower drafts, ability to quarter larger scientific parties than currently possible, improved over-the-side equipment handling and sampling techniques, and, of course, low operating cost.

The group looking at larger coastal vessel needs was more specific in its recommendations for a high-capability ship: a vessel 50 to 60 meters long with a draft of 3 meters or less, that could accommodate at least 20 scientific personnel, with the best available seakeeping, science laboratory, and shipboard instrumentation. The group focusing on small vessels considered a broader range of sizes and capabilities based on differing regional requirements. Two size ranges emerged: "day boats" in the 15- to 25-meter range, mostly for short cruises in protected waters, and "expedition vessels" in the 25- to 40-meter range, customized for their regions of operation.

Conference participants examined new and developing technology and considered how it might be applied to research needs in the coastal zone. Modern moored arrays, satellite sensing, and acoustic imagery were of special interest. Advances in each of these fields coupled with high-speed interactive communications and data processing will allow synoptic measurements (many measurements at the same time over a large area) of coastal processes that were previously unavailable. New ship technologies, such as shallow-draft catamarans, jack-up rigs, and Small Waterplane Twin Hull (SWATH) ships, also offer exciting possibilities for coastal research and monitoring. SWATH ships, especially, provide a highly stable platform for a relatively small hull, allowing cost-effective work to be performed in locations and at times not before possible. (See the inside back cover for a feature on Monterey Bay Research Institute' s SWATH vessel now under construction.)

The conference ended on an optimistic note. A compelling case has been made for new and improved coastal research facilities, especially ships.
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Author:Pittenger, Richard F.; Dinsmore, Robertson P.
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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