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Critical Infrastructure for Ocean Research and Societal Needs in 2030
FIGURE 3.1 UNOLS fleet total operating costs (black) versus number of ship days (gray). SOURCE: Data from UNOLS Office.
cent from 2000 to 2008, largely influenced by rising crew and fuel costs (Fleet, 2009b; Figure 3.1). Over the past 10 years there have been several instances of academic research vessels being laid up to offset rising costs, resulting in fewer ship days being funded. There has been continued use of ships of opportunity (e.g., foreign icebreakers, small ships with global capability to deploy autonomous platforms) and specialized ships (e.g., submersible support ships; fisheries vessels), some of which are part of the UNOLS or federal ship fleets. This move toward specialized ships reflects an effort to optimize the limited resources available for seagoing operations. It also supports the idea that the recent decline in funded ship days for the academic research fleet does not reflect a corresponding lack of science demand, but is rather affected by agency budgets and investigator’s proposal success rates (NRC, 2009b).
Mission-oriented marine research and survey ships are currently operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, to support their congressional mandates for efforts such as fisheries surveys, ecosystem assessments, water quality assessments, hydrographic surveys, and seafloor mapping (Interagency Working Group on Facilities, 2007). NOAA has recently acquired four advanced, acoustically quiet fishery survey vessels and has several more being built or planned. In support of priority objectives laid out in the National Ocean Policy (CEQ, 2010; E.O. 13547), these ships will remain essential components of ocean research infrastructure.
The nature of shipboard work may change as a consequence of increasing numbers and capabilities of over-the-side systems (NRC, 2009b), which will increase operational efficiency. Increasingly multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research requires vessels with support for a wide diversity of platforms and instruments, and increasing ship costs motivate greater use of autonomous assets. To meet these needs, the past two decades have seen significant increases in dynamic positioning and station holding capabilities, multibeam and sidescan sonar systems, and more complex sensors and instrumentation. This has also led to an increasing dependence on shipboard science technical support. One metric for planning future fleet capacity and capability