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Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet
FIGURE 5-6 The UNOLS fleet seasonal utilization trends from 2004 to 2006 (adapted from UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee, 2009; used with permission from UNOLS).
THE IMPACTS OF INCREASING SHIP COSTS
Agency Proposals Requiring Ship Support
The most direct impact of rising ship costs on science has been a decline in the total number of funded ship days from 2004 onward (Figure 5-2). NSF’s annual budgets, including those for divisions that support research requiring the oceanographic fleet, have been funded at levels below the inflation rate. This is a serious mismatch to ship costs, which at the same time have risen at more than three times the inflation rate. Despite the rising number of days at sea requested in proposals (Figure 5-7), NSF could not maintain its non-ship-related research without reductions in the number of ship days funded each year (UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee, 2009). An initial agency response was to defer ship time into future years to meet shrinking federal budget levels, with the hope that future budget increases would provide relief. In 2005, more than 500 ship days were deferred to future years.
Proposal success rates also factor into ship demand. The success rate of proposals in the NSF Ocean Sciences Division (OCE) is higher than the overall NSF success rate (Figure 5-8). However, the rate of successful proposals with ship time has declined, while the overall proposal success rate within OCE has increased. For example, 33 percent of 1349 proposals submitted to OCE in 2008 were funded, whereas only 21 percent of 255 proposals with ship days were successful. This leaves an obvious imbalance in the number of ship days funded versus the number of ship days requested, as shown in Figure 5-7. While some OCE proposals related to the UNOLS fleet but not including ship time (including those that sup-