Rising Fuel Costs Hurt Marine Research

oilgraph.jpgNature News reports:

“Many of the research projects launched as part of the International Polar Year (IPY), which runs from March 2007 to March 2009, are under threat because of the steep rise in marine-fuel costs. Hundreds of Arctic and Antarctic scientists face uncertainty as polar science programmes worldwide are curtailed, postponed or cancelled.

The price of a barrel of oil has more than doubled since March 2007, from US$60 to $140 now. High energy costs are a problem for research in most fields, but logistically complicated research operations in remote polar regions are more affected than, say, big physics experiments.

“We have reached a point where the collapse of some of our activities is looming on the horizon,” says Karin Lochte, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany, which operates the research icebreaker Polarstern, Europe’s largest scientific vessel.

Icebreakers are usually fuelled by marine diesel oil (MDO), a cleaner and more expensive fuel than the heavy oil used by normal cargo ships. The average price for MDO has increased fivefold since 2003, from $250 to $1,300 per metric tonne (equivalent to around 1,200 litres of diesel). Since January, the price has increased by almost $550 per tonne (see graph).”

Dr. M (1714 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

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4 comments on “Rising Fuel Costs Hurt Marine Research
  1. This issue should get much more attention than it has — it’s also affecting our domestic NOAA-based research, where ships like the R/V Gordon Gunter are said to be tied to the dock for the rest of the fiscal year due to fuel costs. And, of course, ship time is something that all of us marine folks have to factor in to our grant proposal budgets, so as fuel costs rise, so do the costs of our research. Perhaps its time to switch our research vessel fleets over to biodiesel!

  2. As much as I hate to say it, because I absolutely love going to see and being absorbed by it for weeks, this might be an even greater argument to increase out efforts with benthic and midwater (via buoys) ocean observing networks. Of course there are somethings that you just need to be out there for, but I am guessing much of what we do can done from the shore or via remotely operated vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles.

  3. One of our penguin biologists had a grant to study rockhoppers off Chile, but boat fuel has thrown the whole expedition into question. The locals say operating costs have nearly tripled. The sad thing is the purpose of the expedition was to catalog species in order to create a protected area for the birds.

  4. FishguyDave, biodiesel is more expensive than regular diesel, so that’s certainly no solution. Expensive marine diesel fuel is going to be a fixture for all vessel operators, so get used to it.

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