Going to Sea on Ships

Marine scientists write proposals to study in all areas of the oceans. In order to collect data in these regions scientists go to sea on research vessels. How do scientists obtain a ship to take them to their study areas and how are the schedules coordinated to get scientists to widely dispersed regions across the world?

Research Vessel Atlantis and Deep Submergence Vessel ALVIN being deployed over the side.

The University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) was formed to answer these questions. UNOLS is an organization of 61 academic institutions and National Laboratories and its function is to coordinate oceanographic ships’ schedules and research facilities. Membership in UNOLS is open to institutions which use, or operate and use, sea-going facilities and maintain an academic program in marine science.

One of the primary functions of UNOLS is to ensure the efficient scheduling of scientific cruises aboard the 28 research vessels. The research vessels are located at 21 ship operating institutions in the UNOLS organization. Ships range in size from 20 meters to 85 meters in length and operate in coastal waters of the United States, the Great Lakes and the oceans of the world.

The fleet of research vessels operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography tied up at Nimitz Marine Facility on Point Loma in San Diego.

Ships are available to all federally funded investigators and a ship is requested by using the Ship Time Request form, which is filled out and attached to a science proposal when it is submitted to a funding agency.

After proposals are funded and the projects identified that require time at sea, the Ship Scheduling Committee meets. The committee consists of representatives from each UNOLS operator institution (such as Rose Dufour from Scripps). Representatives of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other sponsoring agencies are also included in the meeting.

The Ship Scheduling Committee has the task of assuring effective ship and facility support to federally-funded investigators. They also must design efficient and economic operating schedules for individual ships and the UNOLS fleet, and provide timely information for fleet management to funding agencies, UNOLS ship operators, and the research vessel user community.

The ship schedule for year 2001 for the Research Vessel Melville operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

After this meeting the ships’ schedules are published and individual scientists can begin planning for their cruises.

Scientists plan their survey in the laboratory of the R/V Thompson.