WHOI continued to fulfill its mission of taking science safely to sea with deployments of vessels, vehicles and tools and their operating teams to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans in a very busy 2010.
The large research vessels we operate - Knorr, Atlantis and Oceanus combined for nearly 800 days at sea. Knorr spent most of the year in the Atlantic with operations spanning Brazil to Greenland, plus a cruise into the Indian Ocean to study the Aghulas Current off east Africa. Four of the Knorr cruises featured the deployment of the Long Core, a unique tool developed by WHOI engineers and scientists that enable taking 45 m cores in water depths of 7000 m or more. Atlantis continued to support the manned submersible Alvin, with busy dive programs in the Pacific off Costa Rica, the Galapagos rift and the Juan de Fuca plate. Atlantis returned to Woods Hole for the first time in over four years and promptly went back to sea for two cruises in the Atlantic, followed by two cruises in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oceanus operated in the western Atlantic between Barbados and the continental shelf off New England, and also had an oil spill-related cruise to the Gulf. Our coastal research vessel Tioga had over 100 days of operations, supporting projects for every WHOI science department, in areas from Maine to the Hudson River. We provided shipboard scientific services for all of our vessels’ cruises, including oceanographic instrumentation and the technicians to operate and maintain the equipment.
In May WHOI was awarded operation of AGOR 27 (Auxilliary General Purpose Oceanographic Research), a new Ocean Class research vessel to be constructed by the Navy for service in the national fleet. The award calls for WHOI to provide advisory services during the design and construction phase and to operate and maintain the vessel when it is brought into service in 2014. Our advisory role is well underway and construction of the vessel is schedule to begin in late 2011.
WHOI continued to operate the National Deep Submergence Facility in 2010 on behalf of the oceanographic community. We conducted nearly 200 dives on over 19 cruises with the primary NDSF vehicles HOV Alvin, the ROV Jason and the newest NDSF entrant, the AUV Sentry. Sentry, the latest generation of autonomous vehicle, replaced ABE, which was lost at sea on its 222nd dive. Ironically, ABE was brought out of “retirement” for work at the Chile Triple Junction because Sentry was deployed along with Alvin at the same time in the Galapagos. The oceanographic user community officially admitted Sentry to the NDSF in June. Sentry proved its utility that same month as the platform that enabled the detection and mapping of the Deepwater Horizon plume. By year’s end, Alvin, Jason and Sentry had each made deployments and multiple dives in support of the Deepwater Horizon response.
The Alvin upgrade project continued in earnest throughout 2010, culminating in a very successful final design review in late September. The National Science Foundation (NSF) panel approved our design and construction plan, which will be implemented in 2011. After sea trials, the vehicle will be ready to go back to work in mid-2012, featuring a new titanium sphere with five viewports, new imaging system, command and control system, interior layout and a host of other improvements.
Ocean observing continues to be a major focus. The Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (MVCO) is an exceptional facility that provides a platform for obtaining continuous, in situ data in real time and serves as a test bed for sensors that might become part of our global and coastal observing systems. The MVCO, managed through the Center for Ocean, Seafloor and Marine Observing Systems, required numerous deployments of the Tioga to the facility offshore Martha’s Vineyard, as well as frequent dive operations. The Coastal and Global Scale Nodes program we are implementing on behalf of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and NSF as part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative has been in place for just over a year. We have ramped up our technical and project management teams and are well into the system design phase that will enable the first at-sea tests of hardware in late 2011.
Our scientific diving program was very active in 2010, conducting over 1200 dives at sites as varied as Greece, Panama, the Red Sea, the MVCO and the WHOI pier. As of 2010 we have 54 trained and certified divers. The program is sanctioned by the American Academy of Underwater Science, overseen by the Dive Control Board and managed day to day by a full time Dive Safety Officer. The program was significantly enhanced with the donation of the 30-foot dive vessel Echo.
Our Access to the Sea endowment is funding six new projects initiated in 2010 and continues to be a valuable source of support for high-risk scientific and engineering research. We hope to expand Access to the Sea to enable our support of Ocean Class vessel operations, the MVCO, as well as other research related to taking science to sea.
— Robert Munier, Vice President for Marine Facilities & Operations