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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS 5 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Scientific Goals and Priorities in Oceanic Regions of the Arctic Finding: The committee finds that there are fundamental scientific questions in marine geology and geophysics, physical science (oceanography, ice, and climate studies), chemical oceanography, and biological sciences in the Arctic Ocean that require not only exploration but also systematic, year-round repeated investigation over the next several decades. The arctic region is one of the most poorly studied areas on Earth because of its extreme environment and the lack of logistical support for interdisciplinary scientific studies. The existing loosely organized U.S. strategy for coordinated interdisciplinary studies in the Arctic has inhibited the United States in its role in arctic research. The Arctic contains a major portion of the world's continental shelves, yet their geology and resource potential are not sufficiently studied. Recent scientific investigations in the Arctic have focused on the important role that the Arctic Ocean plays in global climate and world ocean circulation. The arctic region is anticipated to be the most sensitive to climate change, and the paleoceanographic record within arctic sediments could provide indications of past atmospheric and oceanic changes due to climatic warming and cooling events. The food web structures of arctic biological communities are poorly known on time and space scales that would allow predictions of their response to environmental changes. Various regions of the Arctic Ocean require both single-survey, repeated stations and sections, and multiyear, interdisciplinary process studies to
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS understand the role of the Arctic Ocean in world ocean circulation and biogeochemical cycling. The consensus of the arctic science community is that there is an immediate need for a dedicated icebreaking research vessel for scientific investigations in the Arctic. Geological, physical, chemical, and biological studies require enhanced spatial and temporal coverage to identify potential resources, determine the role of the Arctic in global climate change, develop more realistic models of world ocean circulation, monitor and assess ocean pollution, and conduct essential process-oriented and experimental studies of food web structure. Year-round access to the shallow marginal seas of the Arctic, which are the most productive biologically and where biogeochemical cycling is most intense, is required to assess fully the status and potential changes in arctic ecosystems over time. The need for a dedicated icebreaker for scientific investigations in the Arctic has been known and pursued for the last 10 to 15 years. As early as 1982, a National Research Council report on academic research vessels found that: the NSF should immediately implement a policy to provide for the order of 1,000-2,000 scientist-days at sea every year on an ice-strengthened vessel in each polar ocean (NRC, 1982, p. 42). Although the NSF research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer has been built to provide ship access to the Antarctic, no similar vessel has been built for use in the Arctic. NRC reports from 1988 and 1991 strongly supported the procurement of a surface ice-capable research vessel dedicated for supporting arctic marine research. The 1988 report stated that the need for an arctic research vessel was “the single most important logistical requirement for the conduct of arctic marine research” (NRC, 1988, p. 3). In addition, all reports of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratories System (UNOLS) Fleet Improvement Committee since 1988 have recommended that the arctic research vessel be considered the highest priority new acquisition for oceanographic research. Yet, at the present time, the arctic research community is still without a dedicated research icebreaker. Recommendation: Federal and state agencies of the United States should encourage arctic research by ensuring appropriate funding and providing dedicated research platforms.
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS National Facilities Needed to Meet Scientific Requirements Finding: Arctic science involves complex operations that require many types of platforms. Dedicated U.S. research icebreakers are essential elements of the U.S. arctic science strategy, but at present do not exist for the Arctic. Finding: Certain important science objectives in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean can be met most efficiently (in terms of time) by a nuclear-powered submarine (SSN) equipped for research. The ability of a submarine to cruise beneath the ice at high speed independent of surface weather or ice conditions makes possible scientific investigations that require large amounts of under-ice areal coverage. In fact, submarine-based capabilities are strongly preferred for most tasks comprising the proposed marine geology and geophysics research in the Arctic (Table 2) and would also be useful for other studies (see pp. 47-50). Although the scientific life span of SSNs is limited by the amount of fuel remaining, the committee believes that a unique opportunity for arctic research would result from procuring an ice-capable Sturgeon-class submarine and refitting it for science purposes (see Chapter 3). Because more recent submarine classes are less ice capable than the Sturgeon class and these submarines are now being decommissioned, this opportunity will disappear unless immediate action is taken. Recommendation: The U.S. government, primarily the National Science Foundation in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, should provide a research icebreaker (and associated operational costs) dedicated to arctic science at the earliest opportunity. Recommendation: The National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research should enter into immediate discussion with the U.S. Navy regarding the possibility of using a disarmed Sturgeon-class nuclear submarine for arctic research. Scientific Requirements for Arctic Research Vessels Finding: Results of the Arctic Science Symposium sponsored by the Committee on the Arctic Research Vessel, along with previous reports and recommendations, consistently identify similar scientific and technical requirements for arctic icebreaking research vessels. Chapter 2 and the many reports listed in the reference section describe important research programs to pursue over the next several decades. The National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and other agencies that support scientific research in the Arctic must coordinate their efforts to set
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS priorities for resources and maintain support for the research programs that will benefit from the availability of an icebreaking research vessel. Recommendation: The National Science Foundation, as the nation's lead science agency, should immediately identify and coordinate research activities of all agencies supporting scientific research in the Arctic that will use and support an icebreaking research vessel. Resource Projections and Requirements Finding: The creation of new arctic research facilities will inevitably result in associated costs for acquisition, operations, and science support. Research support for any arctic research vessel is subject to the same funding constraints that exist for all scientific research. As research dollars become more scarce, it will be even more important to identify, and set priorities for, important objectives, and make a long-term commitment to their continued funding, not just make funds available for the construction of facilities. Provision of a new arctic research vessel without funds for associated operations and science would take scarce financial resources from existing science and operations budgets of oceanography and polar science. Recommendation: National priorities in the Arctic require that the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research, along with other agencies, act to ensure the needed operational and science support. Management Options Finding: Arctic science is suffering from a lack of facilities, due to inadequate interagency cooperation and coordination. Finding: A research icebreaker must be flexibly operated by an experienced crew whose sole mission is science support. The traditional mode of operation for U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers is inconsistent with these needs. The lack of communication among the scientific community and the primary agencies that fund ship operations in support of arctic research (primarily the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, and U.S. Coast Guard) has resulted in both the National Science Foundation and U.S. Coast Guard planning to build dedicated research icebreakers within three years of each other. The U.S. Coast Guard plans for the Healy are well under way, and 1997 is set as a launch date. The National Science Foundation is planning for the
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ARCTIC OCEAN RESEARCH AND SUPPORTING FACILITIES: NATIONAL NEEDS AND GOALS proposed ARV to join the fleet in 2000. Neither the Healy nor the ARV is equipped to venture into multiyear ice without an escort. This situation is economically and scientifically inefficient. Coordinated planning between these two agencies, along with timely input from the scientific community, could have resulted in a first-class scientific research capability in the Arctic. It is necessary for these organizations to be more communicative and to develop a cooperative long-term strategy for research in both polar regions. The U.S. Coast Guard has provided use of its Polar-class icebreakers in the past and has recently realigned its mission statement to include scientific cruises. However, in the past, U.S. scientists have been dissatisfied with the military-style, multiple-mission operation of USCG icebreakers, with their limited space for science operations. The new Healy will have a priority assignment to support science, especially in the Arctic. The committee found that the Healy could provide a platform usable by the polar scientific community only if it were operated by a crew with experience in ice operations in polar regions, and dedicated to a scientific support mission. If this type of staff structure cannot be accomplished by the U.S. Coast Guard for the Healy, the committee recommends that a truly dedicated research icebreaker (i.e., the ARV) be built. Recommendation: The National Science Foundation should lead an effort involving the Office of Naval Research and U.S. Coast Guard to develop a coordinated bipolar strategy for the use of icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships in support of U.S. objectives for arctic and antarctic science in the most economical and effective way. Recommendation: It is essential that a research icebreaker be devoted to arctic scientific research.
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