US Research Fleet High and Dry


"Budget freezes and high fuel costs will force one vessel in the US
academic oceanographic fleet — probably from an East Coast institution
— to remain docked throughout 2009. Two other members of the fleet’s 23
ships will run on only partial schedules.

At their annual meeting in Arlington, Virginia, last week, council
members of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratories System
(UNOLS) said the cutbacks were necessary to save money. Despite
sidelining ships, UNOLS still faces one of its largest ever deficits,
of $19 million, in its $100-million budget to fund next year’s fleet.

Final plans to select the ships and strategies to cover the deficit will be made by the end of October."

This is bad news. Real bad news. We really need to develop better, more efficient ways to fuel ships. Basic ship technology hasn’t evolved in decades. We need to rethink our priorities, encourage more collaboration across disciplines to share in ship time, so nothing form a cruise is wasted. No throwing samples overboard. Preserving animals in 100 different ways for 110 different uses. Saving rock and debris for geochemical and geophysical analyses later down the road. Standardizing data collection so basic spreadsheet columns such as site, depth, lat, long, date collected, country of origin, etc. are filled. Developing a universal sample database that can be tapped into by researchers to see who has what, where and how much. So many labs I’ve been in have samples from 10-20+ years ago sitting there. Freezers are stocked full of tissue suitable for DNA analyses but with little to no inventories or information pertaining to their collection. No information, not useful scientifically.

With the budget in the US the way it currently is and extending its reach globally, there is no excuses. No need for dozens of cruises collecting the same data. No need for people to spend millions to go out to sea to collect data existing already in someone’s freezers or cabinets. This information needs to be catalogues, databased, available over the internet, freely open to researchers and shared between (potential) collaborators. Now. -KZ

Kevin Zelnio (870 Posts)

4 Replies to “US Research Fleet High and Dry”

  1. For the submersibles, biofuel made from seaweed coupled with batteries charged from solar arrays. For ships, harnessing the power of waves (granted, travel is very slow) coupled with batteries changed by wind turbines.

    As for the sharing of information, perhaps an extension of the as-yet-to-be-seen Google Ocean?

    To quote Gene Wilder.. “It… Could… Work!!”

  2. So why is there no real system of info sharing already in place? Do the labs suffer from chronic personnel shortages or guard their info closely? Or is there something else or even a little of everything?

  3. CALCOFI has something like this already, with all data freely available. For this deep sea database, I have a vision of a band of attractively weathered wandering scientists who’ll ride into town to free samples from dusty and frozen imprisonment. They’ll process the samples and enter the data, then ride off into the sunset leaving only broken hearts and hoofprints. Their sidekick will be a wisecracking datasystems programmer, who will make snarky and clever remarks as he creates the free open-source database.

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