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Images: Farewell to the Knorr

The research vessel Knorr arrived in Woods Hole in April 1970 just in time to serve as a backdrop for the first graduating class of the MIT-WHOI graduate program in oceanography. (WHOI Archives)
Knorr was owned by the Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1970 to 2014. It was named after Ernest Knorr, the cartographer who led the Navy’s first systematic effort to chart and survey the ocean, from 1860 to 1885. (WHOI Archives)
Knorr took scientists to get their first surprising views of the seafloor on the mid-ocean ridge in the historic French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study (Project FAMOUS) in 1973. The research cruise was historic in another way: Eight women aboard represented the first significant female participation at sea in a large oceanographic program. Over the years, Knorr also broke barriers to welcome women aboard WHOI ships as crew members. (WHOI Archives)
In 1977, scientists aboard Knorr made one of the most profound discoveries of the 20th century. They unexpectedly found lush communities of animals and microbes thriving without sunlight around hydrothermal vents on the seafloor in the Galápagos Rift. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Among the exotic organisms discovered around hydrothermal vents were blood-red tubeworms encased in 6-foot-tall white stalks. (WHOI Archives)
Jack Corliss, a geologist at the University of Oregon in 1977, holds a giant clam sampled from hydrothermal vents sites. The expedition was searching for hydrothermal vents and found them, but also unexpectedly found chemosynthetic life around the vents. (Emory Kristof)
Veteran WHOI seaman Emerson Hiller was Knorr's captain from 1970 until he retired in 1983. He is credited with setting the standard for the crew's hard work and dedication to accomplishing scientific missions. (WHOI Archives)
Knorr’s crew affectionately called themselves Knorrons. Many stayed aboard for decades, becoming a tight-knit group. They worked closely with scientists, and had a knack for overcoming challenges. On a Labrador Sea cruise in the winter of 1997, all hands had to break dangerous ice buildup from the bow, including then-Captain A.D. Colburn, swinging a mallet. (George Tupper, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
In 1985, Knorr was the ship on the scene when the wreck of Titanic was discovered. To search for the wreck, the ship used a long wire to tow Argo, a sled equipped with cameras, just above the seafloor. (WHOI Archives)
After searching for three weeks, and with just a few days of the expedition left, Argo glided over a boiler the size of a two-car garage and took a photo. They had discovered Titanic’s debris field, two and a half miles below the surface, nearly 400 miles south of Newfoundland. (WHOI Archives)
The pier at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was crammed with people and media eager to welcome the ship, scientists, and crew after they had discovered the wreck of Titanic in 1985. (WHOI Archives)
Knorr was the first U.S. research ship to feature an unusual propulsion system: Voith-Schneider cycloidal propellers. The propeller blades hung down from circular disks placed near the bow and stern on the bottom of the ship. As the disks whirled around, the blades rotated slightly to direct the thrust. Crew members on the bridge could adjust the angles of the thrust instantly to make the ship much more maneuverable. (WHOI Archives)
In 1989, Knorr went into the shipyard to get a midlife refit. The ship was “jumboized” by cutting it in half and adding 34 linear feet to its middle. (WHOI Archives)
The heart and soul of Knorr’s crew is perhaps most evident in the story of crew member Joe Mayes, an oiler who collapsed aboard ship in the Southern Ocean, far from the nearest port. The entire crew worked in shifts, using an airbag to manually keep Mayes breathing for four days until he was evacuated by helicopter. Sadly, he died shortly after in a hospital. (WHOI Archives)
In 2006, Knorr went back to the shipyard, this time to be refitted for a new tool called the Long Core. The massive instrument was nearly twice as long, and four times as heavy, as existing coring systems. It could collect sediment cores up to 150 feet into the ocean bottom. (Jim Broda, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Over its 44-year career, Knorr sailed 1,358,000 miles on more than 300 scientific voyages. The highest northern latitude it reached was 80°N; the highest southern latitude it reached was 68°S. (WHOI Archives)
Knorr sailed throughout the world's ocean, stopping along the way in 46 countries. (P.E. Robbins, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is the world's leading non-profit oceanographic research organization. Our mission is to explore and understand the ocean and to educate scientists, students, decision-makers, and the public.
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