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5 Summary and Recommendations HIGHLIGHTS This chapter · Articulates justification for and recommends improving ac- cess to, and the utilization of, the nation's deep submergence assets · Articulates justification for and recommends construction of a new ROV · Articulates justification for and recommends delivery of an upgraded HOV As Chapter 2 points out, beyond its importance to ocean science, re- search in the deep ocean touches on some of the most basic scientific ques- tions facing humanity. In recognition of both the importance of this work and the unique challenges that must be faced to pursue it, the nation has made a significant commitment to provide operational support. To maxi- mize the scientific return on investment in this area it will be necessary to overcome both technological and institutional obstacles. This chapter dis- cusses the main obstacles and potential solutions. As shown in Chapter 4, the scientific demand for deep submergence assets is, at present, not being adequately met. Part of this problem can be traced to the inadequacy of the number and capabilities of existing assets to perform the type of scientific effort associated with deep submergence 105
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106 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE science funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This report makes specific suggestions for additions to and modifications of this asset pool. Part of the problem, however, can be attributed to the way in which existing assets are managed and utilized. In this context, management re- fers to the acquisition, maintenance, and accessibility of vehicles used to carry out basic ocean research and exploration. In particular, the current management system does not always ensure a match between the require- ments of federally funded projects and the appropriate deep submergence assets. Modification of existing assets and construction of new assets to alle- viate this problem would represent a significant capital investment and would likely engender additional demand for operating funds. Decisions to commit these resources should be accompanied by a commitment to en- sure the best use of the nation's deep submergence assets. The management of the nation's deep submergence assets should, therefore, be clarified and revised to ensure the optimal use of both existing and potential assets in future scientific research. The following discussion points out key steps that should be taken to ensure that basic research conducted at depth in the ocean is not limited by access to appropriate research platforms. PROBLEMS WITH ACCESSIBILITY Many previous studies have called for a reexamination of the use of U.S. and foreign platforms to support deep submergence science. Beyond general calls for increased access, however, specific suggestions have not been put forward. Thus, some additional discussion is warranted here. As discussed in Chapter 1, the National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF) currently operates two vehicles: the human-occupied vehicle (HOV) Alvin and the remotely operated vehicle (ROY) Jason II. Support for the operation of these vehicles is guaranteed by the three NDSF spon- soring agencies (NSF, NOAA, and the U.S. Navy). These agencies are also major supporters of research that utilizes NDSF assets. For example, in 2002, NSF and NOAA accounted for nearly 100 percent of the operational days of all NDSF platforms, with NSF generally accounting for more than 70 to 80 percent annually. This arrangement ensures consistent support for NDSF, while allowing some flexibility in the burden borne by each of the three sponsoring agencies. This, in turn, allows each agency to predict its annual contribution to NDSF funding and to develop budget mecha- nisms to accommodate that contribution. The use of NDSF assets by scientists funded through NSF is covered by funds from the Marine Operations Section of NSF's Ocean Sciences Division (OCE). Proposals to the NSF requesting use of these vehicles are submitted to a number of science programs within OCE. No costs for the
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SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS 107 use of NDSF platforms are included in the budgets of individual propos- als. The cost of NDSF platform use is borne by the Marine Operations Section, rather than by individual science programs. This policy reflects the commitment made by NSF to provide the additional fiscal support needed to undertake deep ocean research and ensures that proposals are evaluated on intrinsic scientific merit. For the most part, vehicle use is essentially guaranteed to any project that is funded by the science pro- gram to which it was submitted. Scheduling vehicle use is facilitated in at least two ways. First, projects may be postponed to accommodate vehicle schedules. Second, one vehicle may be substituted for the other in projects where such substitution is possible. In some cases, it is simply not pos- sible to accommodate vehicle requirements, and proposals are deferred or even rejected on these grounds. Proposals to the NSF that request the use of non-NDSF platforms must include platform operating costs in the proposed budget. Should the pro- posal be funded, funding for platform use must be provided by the sci- ence program to which the proposal was submitted. Since the additional cost for the use of these platforms (not including cost of support ships) can be substantial ($10,000 to $30,000 per day of use), this compared cost is widely perceived as placing such proposals at an unfair disadvantage to those requesting NDSF platforms. This lack of access to suitable assets outside the NDSF is limiting the scope of deep submergence science (UNOLS, 1999~. It is apparent that realizing the vision of deep ocean re- search described in Chapter 2 will require access to a broader mix of more capable vehicles than are currently available through the NDSF.~ Because the NDSF is funded irrespective of vehicle use, the marginal cost (i.e., cost of an additional day of operation) is zero. In contrast, the marginal cost of using non-NDSF assets can be substantial. From a fiscal perspective, it is therefore sensible to require, when possible, that NDSF assets be used in favor of non-NDSF assets. In the absence of additional funds, excess demand for NDSF assets can be managed by a combination of asset substitution (ROV for HOV or vice versa), scheduling, and if nec- essary, proposal rejection. If additional funds were to be made available, excess demand could also be addressed by leasing non-NDSF assets. There appear to be situations, however, in which deep submergence scientific goals cannot be met by NDSF assets but can be met by non- iThe submersibles used to support deep ocean research are similar to those discussed in two recent reports Enabling Ocean Research in the 21st Century: Implementation of a Network of Ocean Observatories (NRC, 2003a) and Exploration of the Seas: Voyage into the Unknown (NRC, 2003b). The recommendations in this report are above and beyond any capabilities called for in those two reports.
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108 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE NDSF assets. Moreover, these limitations preferentially restrict the utility of NDSF assets in certain areas of deep submergence science funded by NSF. For example, limitations on the viewing capability of Alvin and its capability to achieve neutral buoyancy multiple times during a single dive make it less suited for certain types of midwater biological research than certain non-NDSF assets. For this reason, arguments favoring the full uti- lization of NDSF assets have the unintended consequence of restricting the scope of deep submergence science. A reasonable solution to this problem is to upgrade the capabilities of NDSF assets so that they can be used in all fields of deep submergence science. This would expand the scope of deep submergence science and maintain costs at a reasonable level. Although this is clearly an important part of the solution, by itself, it may be inadequate. First, these upgrades, if they occur, will not be completed for two to three years, and some short- term measures are needed. Perhaps more importantly, there is a danger that the existing pattern of use of NDSF assets will simply persist. One way to address both of these problems is for NSF/OCE to provide modest, but immediate, funding to support the use of non-NDSF assets (NOAA cur- rently funds the use of non-NDSF facilities on a modest basis). This funding should not be drawn from the NSF/OCE science program budgets but should be allocated by the NSF/OCE Integrative Facilities Program. An additional benefit of establishing such a fund is that it would provide a gauge of demand for capabilities not provided by current NDSF assets. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should establish a small pool of additional funds (on the order of 10 percent of the annual budget for NDSF) that could be targeted specifically to support the use of non-NDSF vehicles for high-quality, funded research, when legitimate barriers to the use of NDSF assets (as opposed to personal preference) can be demonstrated. If, as additional assets become available (through either purchase or construction), the demand for non-NDSF vehicles declines (or never ma- terializes), these funds could be used to address other (non-deep submer- gence) marine operational needs as determined by NSF/OCE. DEVELOPING NEW ASSETS Reforming the asset management system to allow for wider (though still limited) access to deep submergence assets will, by itself, not be suffi- cient to meet the needs of science. Existing assets are simply too limited in their capabilities and capacity, especially at depths greater than 3,000m, to support the growing demand to conduct research over the necessary
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SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS 109 geographic and depth range. High demand for existing deep-diving as- sets within the NDSF pool has forced asset managers to place a heavy premium on maximizing operational days while minimizing days in tran- sit. The pressure that this geographic restriction has led to can only be expected to increase as ongoing efforts to address a more scientifically diverse set of problems increase the demand for deep-diving vehicles to work in diverse settings. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should construct an additional scientific ROV system dedicated to expeditionary research,2 to broaden the use of deep submergence tools in terms of the number of users, the diver- sity of research areas, and the geographical range of research activities. Furthermore, while such an ROV system can be constructed using well-established subsystems several factors should be considered dur- ing its design. Probably most important overall is the incorporation of several features that will greatly enhance its utility as well as its ability to complement existing assets. Some of the most significant features in- clude a robust variable ballast system, standardized tooling suites, open software and hardware architectures, electronic thruster systems, tether management systems, improved handling systems, and camera and lighting system. The total cost of this system would be approximately $5 million, and it could be built and ready for service within one year of authorization. Using the current University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) model for marine operations, this ROV system could be mobilized onto the current fleet without any significant addition of hardware. The operational requirements would be similar to those for the current Jason II crew. The operational costs of this new ROV should be similar to those of Jason II and, thus, would represent a 20 percent increase in the overall operating costs of NDSF. This increase should have a modest impact if it is anticipated and the overall budget is increased incrementally in preparation for the construction and op- eration of a new ROV. One justification for adding a new ROV system to the NDSF asset pool is to provide even greater geographic range to the growing number of ocean scientists seeking access to deep submergence assets. 2As opposed to those needed to support the Ocean Observatories Initiative.
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110 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE Recommendation: NSF/OCE should, after a proper analysis of the cost- benefits of distributed facilities, strongly consider basing this new ROV system at a second location that would minimize the transit time for periodic overhaul and refit of both ROV systems. The best approach to deep submergence science is the use of a combi- nation of tools. Detailed reconnaissance surveys are best achieved using tethered vehicles and AUVs. Experiments and observatory work that re- quire longer time at already well characterized sites on the seafloor are best conducted with ROVs. Moreover, work at depths greater than 6,500m will definitely require unoccupied vehicles, as long as the expense and risk of constructing and operating HOVs capable of work at these depths discourage their use. As discussed in Chapter 3, human presence at depth remains a sig- nificant lynchpin in the nation's oceanographic research effort. Detailed descriptions of specific sites or work in the water column benefit from the direct human observation allowed by HOVs. Despite rapid and impres- sive growth in the capabilities of unoccupied vehicles (both remotely op- erated and autonomous), the scientific demand for HOV access can be expected to remain high. However, the capabilities of the existing Alvin limit its scientific usefulness for some types of deep ocean research. Im- proving these capabilities, even without extending its depth range, is clearly necessary if many of the high-priority scientific goals discussed in Chapter 2 are to be achieved. Recommendation: NSF/OCE should construct a new, more capable HOV (with improved visibility, neutral buoyancy capability, increased payload, extended time at working depth, and other design features discussed in Chapter 4~. The bulk of existing Alvin use is at depths considerably shallower than its 4,500-m limit. Even at these shallower depths, scientific demand re- mains unmet. At the same time, certain scientific goals would be furthered by the acquisition of an HOV with a 6,500-m-depth range. Under current safety guidelines imposed by the operating institutions, Alvin and other HOVs are prohibited from operating in waters deeper than the rated working depth, even if this operation is in the water column. For this reason alone, providing access to an HOV with a greater depth capability would allow its use over a broader geographical range, thereby improv- ing its utility for a portion of the potential user community. As discussed at length in Chapter 4 however, it is not clear at present that a suitable sphere can be obtained to allow the fabrication of a deeper-diving HOV,
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SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS 111 especially given the limited funds available to NSF/OCE in the next two fiscal years. The most promising approaches for moving ahead during the time frame articulated by NSF/OCE would make use of one of two existing spheres. The first is the third, unused sphere from the Russian Mir HOV series (referred to as the Lokomo sphere), which has been rated to 6,500m. The other available sphere is the titanium sphere used in the existing Alvin, which is rated to 4,500m. While the possibility of fabricating an entirely new sphere warrants investigation, there is insufficient informa- tion at this time to determine the ultimate availability and cost of a spe- cifically fabricated sphere. Given the technical and cost uncertainties, and that the scientific justification for conducting HOV operations at depths greater than 4,500m appears to be incremental (i.e., it represents promis- ing but logical extensions of work supported at shallower depths), it is not clear that significant additional resources (i.e., in excess of those needed to fully upgrade the current NDSF HOV capability;, as discussed in Chapter 4) should be expended on a new HOV with greatly extended depth capability if that expenditure were to preclude construction of the ROV system recommended in Chapter 4 of this report. Recommendation: Thus, constructing an HOV capable of operating at sig- nificantly greater depths (6,000m plus) should be undertaken only if addi- tional design studies demonstrate that this capability can be delivered for a relatively small increase in cost and risk as discussed in Chapter 4. To implement these recommendations, NSF and other NDSF spon- sors would have to increase funding at a rate of 10 to 15 percent over the next three years to (1) cover the cover the cost of non-NDSF vehicle use and (2) cover the cost of the new ROV. In order to provide the capabili- ties and capacity to meet existing and anticipated demands, NSF and other NDSF sponsors should take a three-step approach: (1) set aside additional funds called for to support non-NDSF vehicle use as quickly as possible; (2) initiate acquisition of the new ROV in 2004 or 2005; and (3) undertake a detailed engineering study to evaluate various HOV en- hancement options called for in Chapter 4 with an aim of delivering these new platforms by 2006. It is entirely possible, perhaps even prob- able, that given more time and significantly greater funds, the federal agencies that fund deep submergence research could build a number of platforms with greater capabilities than those described here. The state- ment of task, however, was specifically crafted to ensure that advice provided in this report was appropriate given the current fiscal and pro-
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2 FUTURE NEEDS IN DEEP SUBMERGENCE SCIENCE grammatic realities facing federal science agencies. If, in the future, these requirements were to change significantly, then the appropriate mix of assets needed to support the deep submergence effort should be revis- ited.3 3The purpose of this study is to provide NSF with recommendations for consideration regarding activities to provide infrastructure support for basic research at depth in the oceans through NDSF or other means. As such, the discussions in this report are designed to in- form this question and are not intended to provide an exhaustive account of all research- related activities carried out at depth or a complete account of all the potential assets that exist. The discussion of assets in this report is limited therefore to those that establish whether adequate deep submergence vehicles exist within or outside the National Deep Submergence Facility. Furthermore, any recommendations made in this report are above and beyond the needs for other large programs such as NSF's Ocean Observatories Initiative or activities falling within the realm of ocean exploration.
Representative terms from entire chapter: