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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS 4 STRATEGIES TO MEET ARCTIC RESEARCH NEEDS The preceding chapters outlined research tasks in the Arctic and the types of operations that need to be supported by arctic research facilities. Yet, any new research facility will, by necessity, require new funding strategies. This chapter reviews the planning for support of U.S. marine science in the Arctic, paying special attention to fleet configurations that will optimize support for arctic research. UNOLS Planning for Arctic Facilities The University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), a consortium of academic institutions, coordinates the scheduling and use of academic oceanographic research ships in the United States. The UNOLS fleet consists of 27 vessels up to 274 feet in length. Fleet operations over the past 10 years demonstrate an excess capacity of 1 to 1.5 ships relative to funded science programs and dollars available for operations.* In 1995 full utilization of the fleet was expected to cost $49.9 million, but only $46 million was available for operational costs. The shortfall may become worse as the fleet increases by one large research vessel in 1996. UNOLS has been actively involved for the past 8 years in planning for the NSF Arctic Research Vessel (UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee, 1990, 1994). The science mission requirements for the ARV were approved by the * Kenneth Johnson, UNOLS, letter to the committee, Feb. 2, 1995.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS UNOLS council in 1993 and are incorporated into the UNOLS 1995 Fleet Improvement Plan: The Fleet Improvement Committee (FIC) recommends that the Arctic Research Vessel be the highest priority acquisition of oceanographic research. The FIC strongly supports the addition of the ARV to the UNOLS fleet and recommends that it be operated by a UNOLS institution. The FIC and UNOLS take the position that the Arctic Research Vessel should be built only if sufficient funds are available for its construction, operation and science missions. (Langseth et al., 1995, p. 65) In view of the limited resources available for the existing UNOLS fleet and the likely future funding problems, the UNOLS ARV endorsement is tempered by funding realities. In both written and oral remarks to the committee, the current chair of UNOLS, Kenneth Johnson, reiterated the above UNOLS position. “The versatility of a well-equipped, icebreaking vessel that is purposely designed for research makes it the only platform that can begin to meet all of the community needs.”† Because the annual operating costs for the ARV are expected to exceed $8-10 million, new operating support must be provided for the ARV so that science budgets are not negatively affected and so that other ships need not be removed from the oceanographic fleet. While UNOLS recommends that the ARV be operated by an academic (UNOLS) institution, the committee notes that alternatives to this mode of operation exist. The NSF Office of Polar Programs currently operates the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer through a long-term lease from Edison Chouest Offshore with operations contracted to Antarctic Support Associates. In response to a committee inquiry, Doug Martinson, who chairs the Antarctic Research Vessel Oversight Committee, reported on scientist satisfaction with the operations of the Palmer and indicated that this contract mode of operation with a commercial company has been successful. The committee was informed that one of the more important functions that UNOLS performs is scheduling of the UNOLS fleet to optimize resources and efficiency of operations. In the case of the ARV, this might be done according to the UNOLS model. The appropriate scheduling process should consider the efficient use of the entire U.S. icebreaking/ice-capable fleet, which means that the U.S. Coast Guard needs to be actively involved in the scheduling process. † Kenneth Johnson, UNOLS, personal communication to the committee, February 22, 1995.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS Program Costs Table 10 shows the committee's estimates, based on a variety of sources of the total operating costs, and that portion that must be funded from annual science budgets, for the ARV, the Healy, the Palmer, and the USCG Polar-class icebreakers. Apart from the cost of the Palmer, which is already funded, all of these figures represent new funding requirements that must be met with new appropriations or by reprogramming of existing funds. It is, of course, inevitable that the expanded activity of either the Healy or the ARV or both will also require increased science funding (Pittinger, 1994). The committee asked the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Minerals Management Service (MMS), and Office of Naval Research (ONR) to express their interest in providing future support for the operations and science activities of the proposed ARV. While other agencies were enthusiastic about the science opportunities that would become available, only ONR expressed the possibility of financial support, albeit minor. ONR funding from 1993 to 1995 included $10 million annually to respond to congressional concerns about arctic environmental contamination from Russian radioactive wastes and onshore leakage. Funding for future years will decrease to base levels of approximately $4 million per year for basic and applied arctic research related to ONR's mission. Thus, in the foreseeable future, the principal support for operations and science would have to come from NSF. The bottom lines in Table 10 show the upper limits of various scenarios. The five platforms differ greatly in their science capabilities, and the committee anticipates that the ARV would be strongly favored by the science community (except for work in the central Arctic, where icebreaker escort would be needed and a submarine would be most useful) over the Polar-class icebreakers or the Healy. Strategies for Acquisition and Configuration of the U.S. Icebreaker Fleet The annual operating and science costs are not the only factors that should be considered in reaching a decision about future arctic platforms. A rational approach to U.S. polar research should be bipolar and should consider total costs, including construction and refits, for operation of vessels in arctic and antarctic regions. From this perspective the optimum strategy for polar platforms may be different from that which emerges from arctic annual funding considerations alone. For example, the Healy has bipolar capabilities, similar to those of the Polar-class icebreakers and, according to the information available to the committee, could carry out some of the tasks of the Polar class when the time comes for their major refit and overhaul. Also, in a 30-year strategy,
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS TABLE 10 Estimates of Annual Operating and Science Costs for the Icebreaking Fleet Vessel # of science days y-1 # of science berths Science support costs y-1 ($M)a Arctic science support costs y-1 ($M)b Quoted annual oper. cost ($M) Total annual cost ($M) Cost to arctic program ($M)b ARV 270 36 14.1 14.1 9.1 23.2 23.2 Healy 144 35c 7.3 3.6 2.9d 10.2 5.1 Healyc 270 35 13.7 13.7 11.3 25.0e 25.0 Palmer 300 37 16.1 0 10.7f 26.8 0 Polar Star 144 20c 4.2 2.1 2.9d 7.1 3.5 Polar Sea 144 20c 4.2 2.1 2.9d 7.1 3.5 All five ships, including bipolar Healy 21.9 74.4 35.3 Configuration 1—ARV, Palmer, Polar Star, and Polar Sea 18.3 18.3 64.2 30.2 Configuration 2—Arctic-only Healy, Palmer, Polar Star, and Polar Sea 17.9 66.0 32.0 Configuration 3—ARV, bipolar Healy, Palmer, and Polar Star or Polar Sea 19.8 67.3 31.8 SOURCES: Data were compiled from reports to committee by Capt. Alan Summy (USCG vessels) and Donald Heinrichs (ARV and Palmer). None of the estimates include the cost of escorting icebreakers. Costs assume maximum utilization of vessels. Actual costs will vary depending on the percentage utilization of time on each vessel and based on the validity of assumptions given in footnote I below. Costs are only those incurred by NSF.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS a The science support cost was estimated assuming that (1) the operating cost per scientist for the Palmer is typical for all five vessels (not including the USCG subsidy), (2) the science support cost is proportional to the number of science berths, and (3) the science support cost is 150% of the operating cost of the vessel. Thus, science support cost = ($35.7K per day/37 scientists) * # of scientists on ship X * science days per year for ship X * 1.5 b These values are the costs to the arctic program are estimated as the percentage of time the ship would spend in Arctic (50 percent for USCG vessels, 0 percent for the Palmer, 100 percent for the ARV). c According to Capt. Alan Summy (USCG), the Polar Sea and Polar Star have 20 science berths (expandable to 35 berths) and the Healy will have 35 science berths (expandable to 50 berths). The committee chose to use the standard configuration values. These figures show the maximum NSF use of USCG vessels. In some years, however, NSF does not fund research and operations on USCG vessels. d A major portion of the operation of these ships will be subsidized by the USCG. Subsidized cost figures are shown. The actual annual operating cost for a Polar-class icebreaker is $11.5M. e This estimate assumes that the Healy would work only in the Arctic, with a civilian crew and no USCG subsidy. f The Palmer operates for 300 to 330 science days per year, with a cost of $10.7M for a 300-day science year.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS which is believed to be an appropriate time frame, it is possible to consider termination of the lease of the Palmer in the year 2002 or beyond. Dr. Garrett Brass, executive director of the Arctic Research Commission, presented the committee with several bipolar strategies‡ that, when projected over 30 years, and with allowance for depreciation and inflation, may be able to satisfy both arctic and antarctic research requirements at considerable cost savings when compared with the cost of two independent strategies for the polar regions. Although the committee did not validate the information and figures presented by Dr. Brass, such an approach allows more flexibility to adjust to unpredictable changes in science priorities by polar scientists and government budget priorities. This section discusses three of the possible strategies. The U.S. icebreaking fleet includes two ABS A5 vessels operated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Polar Star and the Polar Sea. In addition, the Palmer is a class A2 vessel dedicated to antarctic research and funded by the NSF Office of Polar Programs. The U.S. Coast Guard has contracted for the Healy's construction. The Healy will be equivalent or somewhat superior to a class A3 vessel, capable of working in the Arctic and Antarctic. The NSF-funded UNOLS study for an Arctic Research Vessel (UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee, 1994) recommends a class A3 vessel for arctic research, and the UNOLS design proposes a vessel highly optimized for arctic research. It should be recognized that to reach the deep Arctic multiyear ice reliably will still require escorts by vessels of the Russian Arktika-class icebreakers or a Polar-class vessel in somewhat thinner ice. In the U.S. icebreaking fleet, the Polar Star and Polar Sea have the greatest icebreaking capability and consequently the largest operating area, but they are more restricted in their science capabilities than the Palmer, the Healy, and the proposed ARV. The Polar Star and Polar Sea have supported the U.S. antarctic research station on McMurdo Sound and will continue to do so. The Healy could also provide support and access to this station. The Palmer and the proposed ARV cannot accomplish this important support function. While the ARV design is optimized for arctic work, the Palmer is most appropriate for antarctic work and the Healy is capable of working at either pole in ice-covered areas consistent with its icebreaking capabilities. The ARV could conceivably work in the Antarctic, but the hull design (which makes it effective for work in ice) limits the desirability of making transits between the polar regions. The committee considered the science priorities and funding required to operate all five ice-capable vessels for science objectives at their maximum capability (Table 10). This option was considered unlikely based on projected near-term science demands and likely funding constraints for science and ‡ Garrett Brass, Arctic Research Commission, personal communication to the committee, March 16, 1995.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS operations. However, unlike the report of the General Accounting Office (GAO) to Congress in May 1995 regarding the proposed ARV (GAO, 1995), the committee considers an icebreaking fleet consisting of the Polar Star, the Polar Sea, the Palmer, and a bipolar Healy to be inadequate. Arctic science objectives cannot be addressed properly with this fleet because of limitations in access and capabilities and conflicting mission goals. The committee considered a four-vessel fleet that could provide the required resources to meet both antarctic and arctic science goals. Several fleet configurations are possible. The committee discussed three possibilities and recommends that NSF and U.S. Coast Guard evaluate these and other possible configurations. Configuration 1 reduces the future fleet to four by not building the Healy and by constructing the ARV instead. This option is presented for comparative purposes only; to terminate the planned construction at this point would result in penalties nearly equal to the entire cost of the vessel, according to a presentation by Alan Summy (USCG) to the committee on February 22, 1995. Configuration 2 reduces the future fleet to four ships by not building the proposed ARV. From the perspective of arctic research conducted from ships, this is the least desirable configuration because the proposed ARV design is optimized to meet arctic science objectives. While the design of the Healy for science purposes is not as good as the proposed ARV, it is a capable platform and represents a major improvement over existing facilities. Both arctic and antarctic science programs would benefit from the addition of the Healy to the icebreaking fleet. The Healy is also capable of supporting the science station at McMurdo Sound, an important antarctic science support function. This configuration would meet the arctic research needs of the United States only if the Healy were reconfigured and operated in a dedicated research mode similar to that contemplated for the ARV. Configuration 3 reduces the future fleet to four by mothballing one of the Polar-class vessels and constructing both the Healy and the proposed ARV. The Polar-class vessels require a refit to continue their mission, and this is currently being undertaken by the U.S. Coast Guard. Reliability of the vessels has been an issue that may possibly require design modifications as well as equipment overhaul and refit. If one of the Polar-class A5 icebreakers is held in storage, funds proposed for its refit could be applied to a major overhaul of the other vessel. One newly outfitted, reliable Polar-class A5 vessel, in conjunction with the Healy, is adequate to support McMurdo Station and can also provide escort service to the Healy and the ARV to the interior of the arctic ice pack under some conditions. This configuration optimizes the fleet for both antarctic and arctic science objectives. However, in the event of a breakdown or an emergency, no effective backup would exist, except from foreign vessels. This is of particular concern in the Antarctic because of its remoteness.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS As expected, maintaining a five-ship fleet is the most expensive option, with an estimated annual cost of $35.3M to the NSF arctic science program. The other options were similar in terms of the cost to the program, ranging between $30.2M and $32.0M annually. (For comparative purposes, for FY 1994 the NSF expenditure for all arctic environmental science was $37M.) The projections of the total annual cost for polar science (arctic and antarctic programs) are slightly more divergent, ranging from $64.2M to $74.4M. The committee, therefore, does not recommend a specific configuration based on cost because costs are similar and are only one of several important considerations in selecting an optimal configuration of the polar research fleet. Other important factors include the scientific capabilities of each vessel, the degree to which a vessel's mission is focused only on science, the icebreaking capabilities of a vessel, and the number of days a vessel is available each year. In addition to fleet configurations, the committee has also considered acquisition strategies for the ARV. One such strategy is the build-to-charter option. This is how the Palmer was brought into the fleet for antarctic research. This would minimize the initial funds required to bring the ARV into service and maintain flexibility in future years based on science requirements and funding. The Palmer, after some initial problems, has proved successful and could serve as a model for this approach. Another strategy is outright purchase, as favored by the General Accounting Office (GAO, 1995). The committee had neither the information nor the expertise to perform long-term cost analyses of different acquisition strategies. Such considerations were, in addition, outside the terms of reference for the committee 's study. These analyses should be made by NSF and USCG working in collaboration as soon as possible, taking into consideration the full range of bipolar strategies. Actions to Improve the Healy's Operation for Science The U.S. Coast Guard's “Required Operational Capabilities/Projected Operating Environment ” for the Healy establishes support and conduct of scientific operations as a primary use of the vessel. The chief of the USCG Ice Operations Division also reported to the committee that the conduct of science is the Healy's only mission.§ Expenditures are sufficiently advanced to ensure that this vessel will be built. Given the present national budget, the Healy may be the only new asset available to the polar science community, but the Healy will not be an acceptable arctic research vessel if it is operated in a mode similar to other USCG polar assets (i.e., the two Polar-class icebreakers): § Alan Summy, USCG, personal communication to the committee, May 3, 1995.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS There are mission conflicts between USCG mission uses and science requirements. Difficulties arise from the differences in ship time scheduling systems used by USCG and those used by the scientific community. Onboard USCG technical assistance at sea is inadequate for support of scientific projects. If funding limitations prohibit the near-term construction of the ARV, consideration must be given to adapting the Healy for efficient scientific use. One possibility to deal with some of the complaints of the scientific community is to reconsider the staffing of the Healy. Alan Summy (USCG) told the committee that USCG would consider alternative schemes for staffing the Healy. With respect to civilian staffing of the Healy, the committee considered the split staffing scheme used on NOAA vessels. Aboard these ships the deck officers are uniformed NOAA Corps officers, while the engineering officers, and non-officer deck and engineering personnel are civilians. This unique arrangement offers no operational advantages for the Healy. The committee believes the following steps can be taken to ensure an optimum use of the Healy: Demilitarize the vessel to reduce crew size and to free up more space for science. The two (or one) Polar-class icebreakers can provide whatever military icebreaking missions may be required. Operate the Healy with an all-civilian crew to provide personnel stability from year-to-year and continuity of onboard experience. Maintain the Healy as a USCG asset, under this agency's management and operational control, in a manner similar to the Navy's practice associated with its university AGOR fleet. Keep the vessel's primary mission as support of polar science, with the same search-and-rescue responsibilities as other civilian ships. By converting the Healy to a demilitarized, civilian vessel, there would be a considerable increase in the efficiency and capability for polar science operations. The ship's stable civilian crew would represent a significant, and improving, asset in terms of polar operational experience. The reduced crew levels would allow reconfiguration of interior space for additional scientific activities. There would also be possible benefits to USCG, which would be able to recover the officer and enlisted seagoing billets that would have been allocated to this vessel. The Healy's A3-class icebreaker status would still permit it to back up, or fill in for, the Polar-class vessels in emergencies where A3 capability would be sufficient for the mission (i.e., not in the central Arctic). Alternatives to the mode of operation described above include:
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS Lease the vessel to a university where it would be managed in accordance with the NSF-sponsored UNOLS program for the U.S. academic research fleet. Arrange to have the Healy operated by a for-profit company in a mode similar to the Palmer. The committee believes that if major changes are made in the proposed operating mode of the Healy, it can become an effective polar research vessel dedicated to science.
Representative terms from entire chapter: