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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The Arctic is a region of greater economic and environmental importance than is suggested by its relatively small area and remoteness. The Arctic Ocean comprises only about 5 percent of the area of the global ocean yet contains about 25 percent of the global continental shelf. Arctic continental shelves are thought to contain vast mineral resources but remain relatively unexplored. The Arctic Ocean accounts for only about 1.5 percent of the volume of the global ocean, yet receives about 10 percent of global river runoff, and thus is influenced by inflow of fresh water and entrained materials to a greater extent than other oceans. Because of the great commercial and environmental significance of the region, it is of vital importance to gain fundamental knowledge about the Arctic Ocean and adjacent ice-bearing seas (e.g., the Chukchi and Bering), as well as the processes that link this area to the global system. As a nation bordering the Arctic Ocean and a leader in ocean science, the United States must maintain a significant role in arctic science. The Arctic is the least known of the world's oceans and detailed knowledge of its role in global processes is limited. Some of the keys to understanding ancient climate conditions are locked in the sediments of the Arctic Ocean basin, and developing abilities to understand and predict climate change depends on understanding the circulation, mixing, and formation of water masses that occur in this nearly landlocked ocean. The detection and monitoring of pollution, industrial and nuclear, in the Arctic Ocean are essential to sustain the living marine resources of the region as well as to preserve the health of the citizens of the United States and other nations that border the Arctic Ocean. The United States has clear national interests in the Arctic, and national policy must be based on solid scientific knowledge.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS To address climate, pollution, fisheries, nonliving resources, and other important science-based issues requires exploration of the Arctic Ocean and continued scientific surveying, monitoring, and process studies conducted over the next several decades. The remoteness of the Arctic and the difficulties associated with carrying out scientific investigations in an ice-covered ocean have limited our fundamental understanding of processes operating in the region and their impacts on adjacent regions and global systems. Although year-round research has been severely limited, arctic scientists have been innovative and opportunistic in obtaining access to, and support for, diverse platforms to acquire the scientific data they require. Among the facilities needed to support arctic science are satellites, ice stations, icebreakers, and submarines. The choice of facility depends on the nature, location, and time scale of the measurement required. Because of the importance of the Arctic Ocean and the difficulties associated with undertaking scientific research in the region, the National Science Foundation requested that the Ocean Studies Board and Polar Research Board of the National Research Council evaluate the scientific and logistic requirements for arctic research. The Committee on the Arctic Research Vessel was established to review and make recommendations related to (1) scientific goals, priorities, and requirements for Arctic Ocean sciences; (2) national facilities needed to meet the identified scientific requirements, including arctic research vessels; (3) resource projections and requirements; and (4) management options (see letter of request, Appendix A). For the purposes of this report, an “arctic icebreaking research vessel” is defined as a surface ship capable of operating independently in the marginal ice zone (and under escort* in the central Arctic Ocean), configured with the scientific equipment and laboratories required for multidisciplinary research, managed and scheduled solely for scientific research, and flexibly operated by an experienced crew whose sole mission is the support of scientific research. An arctic research vessel must be considered in the context of the U.S. icebreaking fleet, including research icebreakers, nonresearch icebreakers, and ice-capable vessels, operating in both arctic and antarctic regions. The committee addressed the issues raised in the request from the National Science Foundation and developed recommendations to promote the efficient conduct of arctic science by U.S. scientists. The committee presents several * Safe entry and exit of research vessels and even Coast Guard icebreakers into the central Arctic Ocean sometimes requires escort by the most powerful icebreakers, for example, the Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers, depending on the season and local ice conditions. Under favorable conditions, however, U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers can reach and return from the North Pole without an escort.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS potential configurations for a bipolar† research fleet and the relative costs to the National Science Foundation of various combinations of ships but did not examine the optimal configuration of the entire U.S. oceanographic fleet or the total costs of the polar fleet to the U.S. government. Scientific Goals and Priorities in Oceanic Regions of the Arctic Finding: The committee finds that there are fundamental scientific questions in marine geology and geophysics, physical science (oceanography, ice, and climate studies), chemical oceanography, and biological sciences in the Arctic Ocean that require not only exploration but also systematic, year-round repeated investigation over the next several decades. The geologic history of the Arctic and the resources of its continental shelves are largely unknown. The Arctic Ocean is critical for deep-water ocean circulation and thus affects the global thermohaline circulation ‡ that is an important factor in the global climate system. This ocean basin receives 10 percent of global river runoff. Some of the region 's rivers carry chemical and radioactive pollutants into the Arctic Ocean. The food web structure and basic life histories of arctic species are poorly understood. Chapter 2 presents a detailed discussion of objectives in four areas of arctic marine science: (1) marine geology and geophysics; (2) physical science (including oceanography, climate, and sea ice studies); (3) chemical oceanography; and (4) biological oceanography and marine biology. There are also important interdisciplinary research topics to be pursued in the Arctic, such as the relationship between physical and biological conditions that affect arctic ecosystems. Chapter 2 reviews the advantages and disadvantages of a wide variety of research facilities, particularly surface vessels and submarines, needed to meet the scientific objectives identified. Recommendation: Federal and state agencies of the United States should encourage arctic research by ensuring appropriate funding and providing dedicated research platforms. † Bipolar includes both arctic and antarctic regions. ‡ Thermohaline circulation is driven by changes in seawater density, due to effects of ice formation, freshwater inflow, temperature changes, and mixing of water masses.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS National Facilities Needed to Meet Scientific Requirements Finding: Arctic science involves complex operations that require many types of platforms. Dedicated U.S. research icebreakers are essential elements of the U.S. arctic science strategy but at present do not exist for the Arctic. Finding: Certain important science objectives in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean can be met most efficiently (in terms of time) by a nuclear-powered submarine equipped for research. The unique abilities of research icebreakers and submarines are complementary. A research icebreaker would allow large multidisciplinary scientific parties to gain access to many important arctic regions and would permit horizontal and vertical sampling of the Arctic Ocean not possible by other means. Even with a research life span limited by the remaining fuel aboard, a nuclear submarine can traverse nearly all the Arctic Ocean with a small scientific party and acquire synoptic survey data that otherwise would be impossible to obtain. The capabilities of research icebreakers and submarines to address science needs are presented in Chapter 3. Recommendation: The U.S. government, primarily the National Science Foundation in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, should provide a research icebreaker (and associated operational costs) dedicated to arctic science at the earliest opportunity. Recommendation: The National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research should enter into immediate discussion with the U.S. Navy regarding the possibility of using a disarmed Sturgeon-class nuclear submarine for arctic research. Scientific Requirements for Arctic Research Vessels Finding: Results of the Arctic Science Symposium sponsored by the Committee on the Arctic Research Vessel, along with previous reports and recommendations, consistently identify similar scientific and technical requirements for arctic icebreaking research vessels. Chapter 2 discusses the scientific questions and logistic requirements associated with Arctic Ocean research. Chapter 3 describes research platforms and their capabilities to meet arctic science goals. Different marine science disciplines have different needs for research platforms, from submarines to ice camps to buoys to surface vessels (see Table 5). In each of the four major disciplines considered in this study there are important needs for a large research icebreaker, which is also important for interdisciplinary research. The
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS symposium sponsored by the committee and the reports made available to it consistently identified the important role of an icebreaking research vessel in achieving arctic science objectives. Recommendation: The National Science Foundation, as the nation's lead science agency, should immediately identify and coordinate research activities of all agencies supporting scientific research in the Arctic that will use and support an icebreaking research vessel. Resource Projections and Requirements Finding: The creation of new arctic research facilities will inevitably result in associated costs for acquisition, operation, and science support. A review of the planning for an arctic icebreaking research vessel, and the anticipated associated costs for science and operations, appears in Chapter 4. These costs depend on which icebreaking research vessel is available for arctic research, how it is operated, and how it is incorporated into a bipolar icebreaking research fleet for arctic and antarctic regions. The committee found that the different combinations of research platforms differ in their operating costs and science capabilities (see Table 10). The committee anticipates that the Arctic Research Vessel would be strongly favored by the science community (except for work in the central Arctic) over the Polar-class icebreakers, including the USCG icebreaker Michael A. Healy. Recommendation: National priorities in the Arctic require that the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, along with other agencies, act to ensure the needed operational and science support. Management Options Finding: Arctic science is suffering from a lack of facilities, due to inadequate interagency cooperation and coordination. Finding: A research icebreaker must be flexibly operated by an experienced crew whose sole mission is science support. The traditional mode of operation for U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers is inconsistent with these needs. Chapter 4 identifies several bipolar strategies and configurations for operating an icebreaking fleet in the arctic and antarctic regions in a manner that will meet science objectives efficiently. The committee believes that the Healy could become an effective polar research vessel only if changes are made in its
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS mode of operation to accommodate scientific research in an optimal fashion. Chapter 4 draws particular attention to alternative strategies for configuring the U.S. icebreaker fleet and actions to improve the Healy's operation for science. Coordination between the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Coast Guard is needed to evaluate these and other possible strategies to guarantee deployment of the most efficient and cost-effective icebreaking research fleet. Arctic researchers have consistently identified several problems with research icebreakers operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Most of these problems center on staffing of the vessels, which can lead to delays and impediments to the research, and the multiple missions of the U.S. Coast Guard, which can lead to problems in planning and carrying out research. Although U.S. Coast Guard representatives told the committee that the sole mission of the Healy will be science, there is a problem with the Healy's planned space for science laboratories and other facilities, including the need for heated decks and enclosed staging rooms. Laboratory space could be greatly expanded, however, if the crew size of the Healy is reduced. Chapter 3 provides a history and summary of these problems, and Chapter 4 discusses actions that would need to be taken to make the Healy an acceptable arctic research vessel. Without an icebreaker dedicated to arctic research, the scientific community cannot provide the data and knowledge vital to U.S. needs in the Arctic in a timely and efficient fashion. Recommendation: The National Science Foundation should lead an effort involving the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Coast Guard to develop a coordinated bipolar strategy for the use of icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships in support of U.S. objectives for arctic and antarctic science in the most economical and effective way. Recommendation: It is essential that a research icebreaker be devoted to arctic scientific research. In summary, arctic science is an important national undertaking for the United States. Conducting the highest priority science will require, at a minimum, an icebreaking vessel devoted to science.
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