Cover Image


View/Hide Left Panel

port from the research programs had some interesting consequences with respect to technology. The separation of facility support from research support enabled more focused attention to be given to improving technology as a community resource. The "ONR model" of inclusive project support worked well in the 1950s and early 1960s when institutions took on individual projects from start to finish. Having a research program buy ship time, technical services, and equipment was helpful to the successful completion of the individual project, but it did little to enhance research and technological capability for the community as a whole. During the 1950s and 1960s, institutions that operated ships did so primarily for their own scientists. Everything necessary for a study was taken on the ship at the start of a cruise, and off the ship at the end. There was little reason to think about what type of technologies or capabilities a ship required, other than the basic equipment-handling capabilities provided by winches and cranes.

A ship's technological capability became increasingly important as ocean science matured in the 1970s. As programs such as the IDOE progressed, ocean research became more expeditionary, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional, and much more complex. Scientists were increasingly making use of research vessels that were operated by an institution other than theirs. Ship scheduling and management plus the acquisition and management of technology became an important matter for the newly established University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), which is the topic of an earlier paper in this volume.

At the very first UNOLS meeting in November 1971, the issue of providing technological assistance to science projects using UNOLS research vessels was identified as a matter that needed addressing. The NSF model of separating ship and facility operations from science support enabled the Office of Facilities Support to tackle the technology provision issue by establishing two new programs: the Shipboard Technician Program and the Oceanographic Instrumentation Program.

The Shipboard Technician Program was established in 1972 to provide technical assistance to users of the academic research vessel fleet. Technical services funded by NSF had an at-sea component and an onshore component. Technical support activities at sea involve maintenance and repair of shared-use scientific equipment, plus supervision and training of scientific personnel in the safe and effective use of this equipment. Activities ashore included the maintenance, calibration, and scheduling of the shared-use equipment that was made available to ship users. Additionally, the technical support activities provided a liaison between the scientific party and the ship's support personnel and crew. As the use of research vessels by visiting investigators increased and as the complexity of equipment on varying ships increased, this liaison function became increasingly important in making best use of time spent at sea.

UNOLS concerned itself with improving technological capabilities as well. The Technical Assistance Committee (TAC) was established in 1974. It developed a set of standard technological capabilities for the different classes or sizes of academic research vessels and worked toward improving these capabilities. The NSF Technician Support Program, working with TAC, developed new capabilities for research vessels as well. One such new development was the installation of SAIL (serial-ASCII instrumentation loop) systems. SAIL systems onboard UNOLS ships allowed scientists to automatically display and record a number of environmental parameters, such as date and time, navigational coordinates, sea-surface temperature, and other meteorological data plus the project's experimental data. It's difficult to realize in these days of powerful personal computers and local area networks, that the ability to walk off a research vessel with a data tape from a just-completed cruise represented a new technological capability 20 years ago. This seemingly trivial advancement was an important step for conducting oceanographic observations, because it facilitated the integration and assimilation of multiple observations, which is the focus of much oceanographic research today.


Until the mid-1970s, the acquisition of all facility equipment by NSF for use on ships and ashore was managed by a single equipment acquisition program. Ships' equipment, such as winches, cranes, echo-sounding gear, and other permanently affixed equipment, was proposed and reviewed along with pooled-use scientific instrumentation. Proposers and reviewers had a difficult time sorting out the relative priorities of robust ships' equipment versus precision scientific instrumentation, especially given the rapid evolution of seagoing scientific instrumentation and the intense competition for funds. Many people felt that the ability to make technological improvements through the acquisition of new instrumentation was being hampered by the ongoing need for permanent shipboard equipment. In response to this concern, a separate Oceanographic Instrumentation Program was established in 1974 to support the acquisition of shared-use scientific instrumentation. This newly acquired instrumentation was to be placed in a pool of equipment and made available to users of the facility, be it a research vessel or a shore-based laboratory. The overall research support capability of the institution and its ability to make effective use of the requested instrumentation for conducting NSF-sponsored research projects were main criteria for evaluating proposals.

Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) Facility

Although ships and their related activities have been the major focus for providing new community-wide technologi

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement