The Shipboard Scientific Services Group (SSSG) of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution provides technical scientific and operational services to all Institution ship users. These services include maintaining and facilitating the operation of shared-use research equipment provided in support of cruise specific scientific programs.
WHOI maintains technicians aboard its three largest research vessels and also on shore. The vessels have an assigned marine operations technical group tasked with maintenance of the standard, permanently installed ship's operational equipment. This technical group consists of shore-based electronics technicians plus two seagoing Communications Officers with principal responsibility for navigation instrumentation, ship control electronics and communications. Both Knorr and Atlantis have permanently assigned work areas and berthing for personnel of this type and they are aboard for all cruises. Oceanus does not routinely carry a Communication Officer but frequent port stops in Woods Hole provide shore-based personnel with reasonable repair and maintenance opportunities.
The Shipboard Scientific Services Group provides the seagoing scientific technical support. This group consists of the sea-going marine technicians and technical support personnel directly responsible for ensuring maximum utilization of ship capabilities in response to cruise requirements. They maintain, repair, and assist in the operation of the available general use research equipment including computer systems, ship installed sensors, portable vans, freezers, refrigerators, fume hoods, water sampling systems, corers, and over-the-side instrumentation handling devices. They are responsible for the arrangement and condition of the ship laboratory spaces and provide direct assistance in cruise preparations, frequently serving as the interface between the ship's agent, crew, local contractors and the science party. They provide assistance with shipping and receiving of science equipment including the preparation of required manifest and customs documents. They are also responsible for the ship electronic mail system including hardware, software and bookkeeping issues. Deck operations aboard WHOI ships are the responsibility of the Chief Mate and under the direct supervision of the Boatswain; the ship's technicians provide the science party interface and assist the Boatswain and crew members as needed.
During each cruise the marine technicians ensure proper operation of the ship data collection, logging and distribution system including sensors, computers, display devices and interconnecting cabling. The system utilized on WHOI vessels is extremely flexible allowing the ship technicians to tailor its operation to the needs of the cruise participants, including specialized data formatting and distribution to science supplied equipment. Under certain conditions, routine data distribution includes shore-based destinations. All of the ship generated data log files are available to cruise participants over the ship's Ethernet system in near real time and the technicians can generate annotated cruise track plots to help meet science objectives. At the completion of a cruise, collected data is copied to CD-ROMs, one of which is provided to the Chief Scientist and another is sent to WHOI for archival storage. Equipment is available to the on-board science parties for duplicating these disks as desired.
The three major research vessels operated by WHOI routinely carry an assigned SSSG Marine Technician for all cruises. The two larger ships normally carry a second SSSG technician and therefore technical support can be available nearly 24 hours per day. Additional technicians are occasionally supplied for cruises for which special technical expertise is required or cruises for which the planned workload exceeds a reasonable level for the normally supplied personnel. Early in each cruise the technicians and Chief Scientist discuss and decide how the technician's working hours can be arranged to provide the most effective level of support.
The ship technicians are not members of the science party and cannot be utilized in that manner. Time at sea is spent servicing and assisting in the operation of supplied instrumentation and equipment, including science party training in its safe and effective use as necessary. In general, the purpose of the onboard technicians is to assist the scientific party rather than to undertake research operations directly; the technicians are not available for watch-standing duties except under unusual circumstances. The normal expected workload associated with calibration, maintenance and repair of ship-supplied equipment plus the necessity to be continuously available for unscheduled technical assistance precludes routine watch standing. However, the assigned technicians will augment the available science personnel in any way possible in helping to overcome unexpected problems, including repair and testing of science supplied equipment if necessary.
Services of the SSSG are charged to users through a daily rate for each ship, which consists of the costs for ship-specific effort and a pro-rata amount of the shared equipment maintenance and coordination effort based on total technician operating days. This rate includes the costs associated with reasonable use of WHOI-owned shared-use equipment; for most science cruises there are no additional charges. User fees outside the funding provided by the day rate are charged when specialized personnel are required due to the complexity or the magnitude of the operations. Extensive or specialized sediment coring and SeaBeam post-processing work are examples of this kind of effort. These non-basic services are quoted to individual scientific users on a time and materials basis.