Societal awareness of the ocean’s critical role in complex environmental 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 biogeochemical 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 temporal 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. 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.
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 specific research problem has given way to larger scientific teams engaged in multidisciplinary research cruises to study more complex questions. Technological developments in autonomous mobile platforms, fixed observatories, 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.
The growing use of autonomous vehicles has already changed the role of the research fleet. Ships are increasingly used as platforms to support synchronous operations of multiple vehicles, requiring the ability