Summary

Oceanography has traditionally been an observational science, with researchers dependent on ships to provide them with access to the oceans. Since 1971, the U.S. academic research fleet has been managed through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), a consortium that unites research institutions, federal agencies, and state and private interests.

Requiring advice on scientific and technological issues that may affect the evolution of the U.S. academic research fleet, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) asked the National Academies to provide near-term advice on how rapid advancements in ocean observing technology and rising costs will impact the future fleet relative to Navy needs. The Academies convened the Committee on Evolution of the National Oceanographic Research Fleet to examine a number of factors including the impacts of advanced technologies such as autonomous vehicles and ocean observing systems on data collection; the most important factors in research vessel design; the impacts of evolving modeling and remote sensing approaches on research operations; the impact of rising costs of research vessel operations on the ability to conduct oceanographic research in the future; and the usefulness of partnering mechanisms, such as UNOLS, to support national oceanographic research objectives.



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Summary Oceanography has traditionally been an observational science, with researchers dependent on ships to provide them with access to the oceans. Since 1971, the U.S. academic research fleet has been managed through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), a consortium that unites research institutions, federal agencies, and state and private interests. Requiring advice on scientific and technological issues that may affect the evolution of the U.S. academic research fleet, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) asked the National Academies to provide near-term advice on how rapid advance- ments in ocean observing technology and rising costs will impact the future fleet relative to Navy needs. The Academies convened the Commit- tee on Evolution of the National Oceanographic Research Fleet to examine a number of factors including the impacts of advanced technologies such as autonomous vehicles and ocean observing systems on data collection; the most important factors in research vessel design; the impacts of evolv - ing modeling and remote sensing approaches on research operations; the impact of rising costs of research vessel operations on the ability to conduct oceanographic research in the future; and the usefulness of part - nering mechanisms, such as UNOLS, to support national oceanographic research objectives. 

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 SCIENCE AT SEA FUTURE SCIENCE NEEDS Societal awareness of the ocean’s critical role in complex environmen- tal and natural hazards issues has increased dramatically over the past few years. As a result, many topics previously of interest only to a select group of oceanographers (including ocean acidification, carbon and bio- geochemical cycling, ocean circulation, ocean-atmosphere fluxes, harmful algal blooms, undersea volcanic eruptions, and tsunami generation) are now being viewed as essential for national and worldwide health and security. These issues will require a fundamental understanding of complex and interwoven processes, grounded in sustained ocean observations. The future ocean research agenda will be driven by diverse disciplinary and interdisciplinary research across a broad range of spatial and tempo- ral observational scales. Key to the study of these issues is the U.S. academic research fleet, which provides an essential, enabling resource for the nation. Sci - entific 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. 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 paradigm of a single investigator going to sea to examine a spe - cific research problem has given way to larger scientific teams engaged in multidisciplinary research cruises to study more complex questions. Tech- nological developments in autonomous mobile platforms, fixed observa - tories, sensors, remote sensing, and modeling will continue to increase scientific understanding of the ocean environment but will not obviate the need for research vessels. 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. Adaptable, technologically advanced Global class vessels will be needed. Critical interdisciplinary research on coastal margins will require capable Regional class vessels that operate in shallower depths. TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS The growing use of autonomous vehicles has already changed the role of the research fleet. Ships are increasingly used as platforms to sup- port synchronous operations of multiple vehicles, requiring the ability

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 SUMMARY to carry more instruments, equipment, and personnel. Ocean observing systems will also increase pressure on the academic research fleet. Ships will be needed to support installation, operations, and maintenance of observatory infrastructure, as well as sensor package deployment and novel science programs. Ocean observatories and autonomous vehicles will impact future vessel design requirements for acoustic communications, deck space, payload, berthing, launch and recovery, and stability. Servicing ocean observatories and launching and recovering autonomous vehicles will result in increased demands for ship time. Satellite data and more advanced ocean modeling are providing sci- entists with valuable analysis tools to place their observations of ocean variability in context across a spectrum of spatial and temporal scales. Increased access to satellite remote sensing data and broader ship-to- shore communications bandwidth will allow for interdisciplinary process studies that integrate real-time imagery. This will strengthen the need for ship-based calibration and validation of satellite data and will increase the pressure for robust ship-to-shore satellite communications. This tech- nology will also provide greater opportunity for land-based researchers to participate remotely in research cruises, increasing the efficiency of ship-based science. 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. VESSEL DESIGN Future oceanographic vessels will continue to support widely diverse research objectives, with increased pressure to facilitate multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research. Supporting future research needs will require both highly adaptable general purpose ships and specialized vessels. Some ves - sels should be capable of operating in high latitudes and high sea states. More capable Coastal, Regional, and Global class ships will also be needed. Larger sci- ence parties and more complex technology will require more laboratories, deck space, and accommodations. Trends toward increasing beam, length, draft, and displacement and the economy of scale present in larger hulls suggest that investments should be made in larger, more capable vessels in any size class. Some existing Navy-built research vessels have suffered from poorly defined performance specifications, leading to less-than-optimal research vessels. The current Navy ship acquisition process does not emphasize inclusion of the scientific community in decision making regarding design and specifications. The process led by NSF in its design and procurement of the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) is a refined continuation

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 SCIENCE AT SEA of efforts to include ocean researchers in ship design and construction. Development of the NSF-sponsored ARRV has benefited from community-driven ship design, allowing users to participate more fully and to create optimal designs within cost constraints. Recommendation: All future UNOLS ship acquisitions, beginning with the planned Ocean class vessels, should involve the scien - tific user community from the preconstruction phase through post- delivery of the ship. SHIP TIME COSTS Total operating costs for the UNOLS fleet increased 75 percent from 2000 to 2008, driven mainly by crew and fuel cost factors. Recent market volatility of crude oil led to extremely high fuel costs in 2008 and more expensive daily ship rates. Over the same period, the total number of operating days decreased by 13 percent. The continued push for operat - ing efficiency may lead to longer lead times for research projects and reductions in the ability of the future fleet to accommodate late-breaking scientific and funding opportunities. 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 labo - ratories, deck space, and berthing capabilities that can support multiple science operations. With these vessels, complex programs are less likely to require multiple legs, thus lowering operational costs. Recommendation: The future academic research fleet requires investment in larger, more capable, general purpose Global and Regional class ships to support multidisciplinary, multi-investiga - tor research and advances in ocean technology. PARTNERSHIPS The UNOLS partnership between federal agencies, academic institu- tions, and state and private interests successfully serves national oceano- graphic research objectives and is anticipated to continue in the face of changing science priorities and technological advances. The UNOLS con- sortium management structure is sound and is of benefit to research institutions, federal agencies, and state and private interests. The federal agency partnerships that capitalize and support the academic research fleet, particularly between the Navy and NSF, have a proven record of cost savings and asset sharing. However, there are many assets that are not integrated with UNOLS, leading to suboptimal use of the full U.S. research fleet. This leads to a mismatch between avail-

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 SUMMARY able ship time and research needs to support national goals, a trend that is likely to continue in the future. In particular, opportunities exist to better integrate icebreakers oper- ated by the U.S. Coast Guard and supported by NSF’s Office of Polar Programs with the UNOLS management structure, and to fulfill some part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA’s) identified needs for significantly more ship time by utilizing UNOLS unfunded ship days. A stronger partnership between UNOLS and NOAA would allow NOAA to better fulfill its mission and UNOLS to increase efficient use of the 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.

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