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Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet 7 Conclusions and Recommendations The U.S. academic research fleet is an essential, enabling resource for the nation. Versatile, capable ships provide the U.S. oceanographic community with access to the sea and the ability to carry out research projects of increasingly critical societal relevance that promote national oceanographic goals. Growth in understanding the ocean’s role in climate change, ocean acidification, and marine ecosystem health, among others, will require a robust, technologically capable, and highly adaptable fleet. Scientific demands on the U.S. academic fleet are likely to increase in future years. However, aging ships and evolving technology require fleet modernization and recapitalization to maintain the nation’s leadership in ocean research. There has been a lack of commitment to previous fleet renewal plans, which has resulted in significant delays to developing a robust academic research fleet. Recommendation: Federal agencies supporting oceanographic research should implement one comprehensive, long-term research fleet renewal plan to retain access to the sea and maintain the nation’s leadership in addressing scientific and societal needs. The fleet of the future will be required to support increasingly complex, multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research projects, including those in support of autonomous technologies, ocean observing systems, process studies, remote sensing, and modeling. Ship-based research will remain a necessary aspect of oceanographic research in the future (Chapter 2). Although technological
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Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet advances in remote and autonomous platforms have led to great spatial and temporal increases in sampling, with more gains anticipated, there are still portions of the deep ocean critical to studies of climate change (the water column below 2000 meters, for example) that require sampling by ships. Research vessels are also needed for tracer experiments, for measurement of chemical components of the ocean that do not currently have sensors capable of autonomous use, and for studies of deep sea biodiversity and geology. The largest research vessels of the fleet will be required for global oceanographic surveys. In addition, ship-based calibration and validation will continue to be essential for both over-the-side instruments and satellite remote sensing data streams. Coastal regions that experience the greatest human impacts will need capable Regional and smaller class vessels. Research vessels will also be needed for geological explorations of the seafloor, including large-scale seafloor mapping, seismic surveys, and drilling. Finally, the academic fleet will continue to play a unique and essential role in atmospheric chemistry research programs, providing access to the marine atmosphere with a duration and payload unmatched by other platforms. New technologies are likely to increase the need for research ships that are capable of supporting multidisciplinary, multi-investigator science (Chapter 3). Research vessels of the future will increasingly be used as platforms that coordinate the operations of multiple autonomous vehicles and/or remotely operated vehicles, deployment of over-the-side instruments, and collection of complex datasets. Highly qualified marine support staff will be increasingly required for successful cruises. Ocean observatories and autonomous vehicles will impact future vessel design requirements for acoustic communications, deck space, payload, berthing, launch and recovery, and stability. Precise positioning will be needed to support off-board vehicles. Deployment, recovery, and maintenance of autonomous vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, and moorings that support long-term ocean observatories will require adaptable, technologically capable ships with large laboratory and deck spaces. Servicing ocean observatories and launching and recovering autonomous vehicles will result in increased demands for ship time. There is a need for increased ship-to-shore bandwidth, in order to facilitate real-time, shore-based modeling and data analysis in support of underway programs, allow more participation of shore-based scientists, and increase opportunities for outreach. Oceanographic research needs and advances in technology will drive many aspects of future oceanographic ship design (Chapter 4), increasing laboratory, deck space, and berthing. Research vessel design must accommodate evolving research trends and unforeseen technological advances, while continuing to meet specific disciplinary needs. Supporting future research needs will require both highly adaptable general purpose ships and spe-
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Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet cialized vessels. The need to investigate societally relevant research questions in remote areas and inclement weather conditions will require some vessels that are capable of operating in high latitudes and high sea states. More capable Coastal, Regional, and Global class ships will also be needed. Research vessels acquired through the Navy have had little opportunity for scientific community involvement regarding design needs and specifications. Development of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Alaska Regional Research Vessel (ARRV) has benefited from community-driven ship design. Recommendation: All future UNOLS ship acquisitions, beginning with the planned Ocean class vessels, should involve the scientific user community from the preconstruction phase through post-delivery of the ship. The U.S. research fleet has recently faced increasing operating costs and declining days at sea, a trend that is likely to continue (Chapter 5). Primary drivers of operational costs include crew salaries and benefits, fuel and lube oil, and ship scheduling. Ship scheduling will become increasingly efficient to accommodate the needs of the scientific research community. However, tighter schedules for the future fleet could reduce the potential for late-breaking scientific and funding opportunities and increase the wait time for project starts. The trend toward multi-investigator science programs indicates continued need for ship resources. The increasing cost of ship time and the economies of scale associated with larger ships may lead to greater use of the Global class vessels, which have laboratories, deck space, and berthing capabilities that can support multiple science operations. This would enable projects to be overlapped and combined into a single leg, thereby driving down the cost per project and per required science berth. To fully realize savings, future ships must be increasingly capable of carrying out multiple science operations simultaneously. Recommendation: The future academic research fleet requires investment in larger, more capable, general purpose Global and Regional class ships to support multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research and advances in ocean technology. The University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) consortium management structure is sound and is of benefit to research institutions, federal agencies, and state and private interests (Chapter 6). The federal agency partnerships that capitalize and support the academic research fleet, particularly between the Navy and NSF, successfully provide cost savings and asset sharing. However, there are many assets that are not integrated with UNOLS, leading to
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Science at Sea: Meeting Future Oceanographic Goals with a Robust Academic Research Fleet suboptimal use of the full U.S. research fleet. Further integration and coordination with agencies that operate and support academic research vessels outside of the UNOLS consortium would optimize use of the entire U.S. research fleet. Recommendation: NOAA should identify which of its 13,200 unmet annual ship day needs could be supported by the UNOLS fleet. NOAA and UNOLS should work together to develop a long-term plan to increase the usage of UNOLS ships in support of the NOAA mission. Recommendation: The NSF Division of Ocean Sciences, the NSF Office of Polar Programs, and the U.S. Coast Guard should improve coordination of ship operations and support between the UNOLS and polar research fleets.