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Vessels & Vehicles

R/V Atlantis
A rare look below the water line: R/V Atlantis during scheduled maintenance in the Bahamas in April. (Photo by Bob Elder)
R/V Atlantis and DSV Alvin
Research Vessel (R/V) Atlantis spent 2003 sailing regions of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans supporting deep submergence projects. Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Alvin, which operates from Atlantis, made 100 dives and carried 300 pilots and passengers last year during scientific expeditions to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the New England Seamounts, the Gulf of Mexico, and the East Pacific Rise.

Atlantis 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 submersible for the next day’s dive, the ship performs research operations such as mapping, collection of dredge or water samples, and towing of instruments.

Science operations began in March with a cruise to test Britain’s new Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Isis (a clone of ROV Jason II), capable of diving to 21,325 feet (6,500 meters). In April, researchers on Atlantis visited the massive hydrothermal vent field “Lost City” for the second time since scientists discovered the site while diving in Alvin in 2000. On May 16, 2003, Alvin pilot Pat Hickey marked his 500th dive while sampling there for mussels and carbonates.

In early June the ship sailed to the New England Seamounts, where scientists collected corals that record climate change signals. A cruise in late June to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge focused on the seismicity, structure, and fluid flow of hydrothermal systems. Other summer cruises included an expedition to study species biodiversity at the New England Seamounts and a cruise off the southeastern United States focused on the biology, physics, and chemistry of seafloor methane seeps.

Atlantis returned to Woods Hole in August for scheduled maintenance. In October science operations resumed with a trip to the Gulf of Mexico for the study of chemosynthetic communities. After traveling through the Panama Canal, Atlantis sailed to the East Pacific Rise, where scientists using Alvin collected biological samples. A second visit to the site in November and December allowed researchers to continue studies of the tubeworms that live on chimneys at hydrothermal vent fields.

R/V Knorr
Knorr arrives in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Chris Roman)
R/V Knorr
The longest ship at WHOI at 279 feet (85 meters), Knorr can operate worldwide in any ice-free waters. Like Oceanus, Knorr is a general-purpose ship.

Knorr is outfitted with thrusters and global positioning system navigation, and in 2003 received a new computer-controlled dynamic positioning system that allows the ship to hold its position to within three feet (one meter). This is an important capability for operations such as drilling core samples and operating tethered vehicles.

In early January, Knorr traveled to the Adriatic Sea to support an Office of Naval Research (ONR) cruise to measure seawater mixing, before sailing to the Black Sea for three months of National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored chemistry, physical oceanography, and marine archaeology research. The ship returned to the Adriatic in late May and June for scientists to complete research on ocean circulation.

Following maintenance in Malta, Knorr spent July and August at deep-sea archaeological sites in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. As Knorr traveled back across the Atlantic to Woods Hole, scientists and engineers tested a new underwater video microscope, called a video plankton recorder, that measures the distribution of plankton. In October and November, a cruise supported scientists conducting an extensive hydrographic survey between Woods Hole, Newfoundland, and Trinidad.

R/V Oceanus
Oceanus in Newfoundland. (Photo by Ryan Frazier)
R/V Oceanus
At 177 feet (54 meters), Oceanus is a mid-size research vessel designed for cruises lasting two to three weeks. The ship is equipped for deploying deep ocean moorings; collecting bottom samples, water samples, and data to depths of 16,404 feet (5,000 meters); and towing oceanographic instruments that measure seawater properties, biological populations, and other physical and chemical variables. Following a mid-life upgrade in 1994, the service life of Oceanus was extended to 2009.

Working the Atlantic Ocean from the equator to the Arctic Circle, Oceanus supported research projects in nearly every oceanographic discipline in 2003, and even gave some students a first taste of scientific work at sea.

On separate cruises in January and February to the tropical Atlantic, researchers and technicians used Oceanus to recover and redeploy moorings that measure meteorological conditions at the sea surface and the flow of deep water from the Antarctic into the Atlantic circulation system. Between those cruises, the ship tracked the movement of a tracer dye that was released in 2001 in order to measure mixing in the top layers of the tropical ocean.

On a March cruise for the NSF Engineering Research Center, researchers conducted tests of autonomous underwater vehicles. Two cruises for ONR in April and May focused on the acoustic properties of the Atlantic Ocean along the U.S. continental shelf, while a third ONR expedition in November collected data on how fluid dynamics in the sea can affect the propagation of acoustic signals.

A summer cruise in the Gulf of Maine studied the characteristics of Alexandrium fundyense, algae known to poison shellfish. Further north, the ship supported cruises in July and August to the Labrador, Irminger, and Greenland Seas to collect data on the flow of water into and out of polar regions.

The ship supported a January oceanographic training cruise from Woods Hole to Brazil for undergraduate students from the University of Maryland.

ROV Jason II
Remotely Operated Vehicle Jason II. (Photo by Dan Fornari)
ROV Jason II
ROV Jason II spent the entire year in the Pacific Ocean working from the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. Through five expeditions, Jason II was lowered 47 times, logging 752 hours on the seafloor and reaching its diving limit—21,325 feet (6,500 meters)—on several dives.

In the Mariana Forearc region off Southeast Asia, in March Jason II conducted a precision mapping campaign of four seamounts and collected samples of mud, rock, and seafloor organisms. In June, the ROV explored the Endeavour hydrothermal vent field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge off Washington state, drilling into basalt and sulfide formations to deploy in situ instruments and to take samples of high-temperature fluid flow sites. On a second trip to the Ridge in July, Jason II collected wood and organism samples as well as more than 200 gallons of fluid from active hydrothermal vents for a research team investigating the origins of life on the seafloor.

On two other cruises in May and September, the ROV was used to upgrade and install new instruments at the Hawaii-2 Observatory (H2O), which lies on the seafloor halfway between Hawaii and California. Researchers used the vehicle to recover and redeploy the H2O junction box, augmenting and extending the utility of the only U.S. deep-ocean observatory. Among other instruments, the team installed a new seismometer system to monitor earthquakes and submarine landslides, as well as a photographic monitoring system to observe sea creatures that pass through the area.

CRV Tioga
Rollover of the new 60-foot coastal research vessel Tioga in November. The new vessel arrived at WHOI in April 2004, and replaces the 24-year-old Asterias. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst)
R/V Tioga
After 24 years of coastal research, the 46-foot (14-meter) vessel Asterias completed its final year of science work in 2003. Asterias performed 643 hours of service last year, with cruises supporting the growing demand for coastal research, primarily in the New England region. The vessel will be sold in spring 2004 to be replaced by the new 60-foot (18-meter) Tioga (shown under construction in photo at right), capable of cruising at 20 knots, twice as fast as the vessel it replaces. Tioga will carry twice the weight and feature state-of-the-art laboratories while supporting shallow water diving operations.

—Richard F. Pittenger (rpittenger@whoi.edu)
Vice President for Marine Operations

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