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Oceanography in the Next Decade: Building New Partnerships
The costs of the latest equipment (e.g., ships, satellites, and laboratory instrumentation) used in oceanography today are rising much faster than the rate of inflation. This trend, seen in many scientific fields, is what D. Allan Bromley, the President's Science Advisor, calls the sophistication factor. For example, all major oceanographic research vessels in the 1970s were equipped with wide-beam echo sounders to measure the water depth beneath the ship. These simple systems cost a few thousand dollars to install and were inexpensive to operate. In the 1980s, the first multiple narrow-beam echo sounders were introduced. These systems produced more accurate seafloor maps up to 16 times faster than the older echo sounders, but they cost nearly $1 million per ship to install and are much more costly to operate and maintain. In the early 1990s, the second-generation multibeam swath mapping systems were introduced. They are up to 10 times faster than the first multibeam systems but cost nearly 2.5 times as much. This example is not atypical; each oceanography discipline could cite similar examples. As our capability to do oceanographic research has increased over the past 20 years, the associated costs of acquiring, operating, and maintaining modern facilities and equipment have outpaced inflation.