Vessels & Voyages > Access to the Sea
Access to the Sea
Our ocean-going ships, and the vehicles Alvin and ROV Jason, are part of the US Academic Fleet, a federation of 27 vessels distributed throughout the coastal states. Providing researchers with unrivaled access to the sea, in a typical year the fleet serves more than 2,500 scientists conducting more than 350 projects. The diversity and distribution of these vessels ensures efficient, affordable and uniformly high quality service to researchers.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) operates three ocean-going ships: Oceanus, Knorr, and Atlantis, each filling a different niche.
Atlantis has the same broad capabilities as Knorr, but is equipped for launch and retrieval of the submersible Alvin so most of its work involves deep submergence. The ship operates around the clock. Alvin typically dives in the morning, spends the day at the bottom of the sea, and is recovered in the late afternoon. At night, while the Alvin team prepares the submarine for the next days dive, the ship performs research operations such as mapping, collection of dredge or water samples, and towing of instruments.
Knorr, our longest ship at 279 feet, can operate globally in any ice-free waters. In the last several years, Knorr circumnavigated Africa and worked on the northeast coast of Greenland. Like Oceanus, Knorr is a general-purpose ship. It is outfitted with thrusters, global positioning system navigation, and a computer-controlled dynamic positioning system, enabling the ship to hold a position to within two meters (seven feet)-an important capability for operations such as drilling core samples and operating tethered vehicles.
Scientific operations supported by Oceanus include:
Deployment of deep ocean moorings
Collection of water samples and data to depths of 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), as well as bottom samples
Towing oceanographic instruments to measure seawater properties, biological populations, and other physical and chemical variables. Following a mid-life upgrade in 1994, its service life was extended to 2009.
An Asterias has always been part of the Institution. The first Asterias was launched in 1931 and replaced in 1979 with a boat of the same design but with a lower maintenance fiberglass hull. It performed more than 550 hours of service in 2002, with cruises mainly supporting the growing demand for coastal research. Plans are underway to replace Asterias in spring 2004 with a more flexible, modern vessel (left). The new 60-foot boat will feature state-of-the-art laboratories, a more flexible and efficient deck design and will support shallow diver operations. It will make 22 knots, more than double that of the old vessel.