Marine Operations and Facilities
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Bob Detrick with Atlantis Master Gary Chiljean during Alvin transfer to Atlantis for testing after overhaul. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI)
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Our research vessels and vehicles had another impressive year of operations in 2005, with nearly 800 days at sea and more than 100 Alvin and Jason 2 dives. Atlantis and Knorr were both equipped with new satellite communication systems providing 24-hour Internet access that enhance science activities, enable better ship-to-shore communication for crew and scientists, and provide better education opportunities for students and the public.

In September, a camera mounted on WHOI’s remotely operated vehicle Jason 2 broadcasted real-time, high-definition video from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean via satellite to a worldwide audience. This demonstration provided a glimpse of the future, when networks of sensors will telemeter data from anywhere in the world’s ocean in real-time back to a scientist’s laboratory 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Despite exciting advances in sea-going technology, the nation’s research fleet continues to operate under increasingly difficult conditions. Funds to operate the fleet have been flat since 2004. This, coupled with skyrocketing fuel prices, increasing regulatory requirements, and higher personnel costs have squeezed fleet operating budgets.

As a result, the National Science Foundation will reduce the number of ship days it funds from almost 3,000 days in 2005 to just over 2,000 days in 2006. Ship funding by other federal agencies is also flat or decreasing. This means some funded science programs will be delayed one or two years before going to sea, and most ships will operate on partial-year schedules. The prospects for 2007 do not look much better.

We need to redouble our efforts to persuade decision makers in Washington and the American public of the importance of ocean research, and the necessity of maintaining a strong research fleet to provide researchers with access to the sea.

—Robert Detrick
Vice President for Marine Facilities and Operations

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