Addressing the future ocean sciences research agenda will require a cadre of well-trained seagoing scientists. Students need to gain experience and training at sea to become scientists that are well versed in the broad field of oceanography. Gaining experience at sea is nearly as crucial for future oceanographers who will do their work ashore as it is for those who will run ship-based research experiments, in whose case at-sea experience amounts to a type of apprenticeship. New technologies will enhance education on shore but are unlikely to change the paradigm. The academic fleet will need ships with sufficient berthing to carry not only the science and technical teams, but also the next generation of oceanographers.
The future ocean sciences research agenda will be driven by a diverse portfolio of disciplinary and interdisciplinary seagoing studies across a broad range of spatial and temporal observational scales. The fleet of the future will be required to support increasingly complex, multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research projects using autonomous technologies, ocean observing systems, remote sensing, and modeling. Research vessels will be needed to investigate and explore all areas of the ocean, from tidal zones to deep trenches.
Recent advances in technology (such as global arrays of floats and satellite data) have fundamentally altered oceanographic research, with sampling coverage and frequency that far outweigh the collection abilities of the research fleet. However, several new technologies that will impact future ocean research (e.g., in situ chemical and genetic sensors) have not yet been proven capable of withstanding the rigors of deployment on a mooring, autonomous vehicle, or ocean observing system, and most of these systems will require both ship deployment and calibration. In the next 10-20 years, autonomous mobile platforms and fixed observatories are not expected to have sufficient sensing capabilities to replace traditional research vessels.
Ship-based measurements will continue to be required in the foreseeable future to further both basic research and new discoveries in the ocean. A capable academic research fleet will continue to be required for needs such as water sampling, calibration and validation of satellite remote sensors, seafloor mapping and drilling, focused process studies, and atmospheric sampling. As continuous ocean observing systems and future generations of autonomous and fixed platforms document novel phenomena and processes in the ocean environment, they are likely to drive increased demand for ship time to research these new discoveries further. Ships will also continue to be required to train students and advance the study of oceanography.