Navy research vessel upgrades tech to continue legacy of ocean expedition

The oceangoing research vessel (R/V) Roger Revelle is receiving a much-needed technology modernization, including upgrades to its sonar, operating systems, and communication systems. The overhaul will cost project partners the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the neighborhood of $52 million.

This effort will extend the life of the science research vessel by 15 to 20 years, officials explain in an ONR report. This project will aid continued scientific oceanographic research at the university and ONR, making the upgrade an important step for ocean research around the globe.

“This refit of the R/V Revelle is important because it bolsters the scientific and seagoing capabilities of a true workhorse of a ship,” says Dr. Tom Drake, head of ONR’s Ocean Battlespace and Expeditionary Access Department. “The refit will allow the Revelle to continue to support Navy and national oceanographic research objectives. It also enables additional years of service; hundreds of thousands of ocean miles sailed; research opportunities for thousands of scientists; and the training of the next generation of seagoing scientists and technicians.”

Imagine what the ship’s updated sonar will be able to capture today? Research and discovery on the depths of the ocean continues to be valuable, even as other scientific endeavors focus more on the “opposite” frontier: space. The most important part about this project? Scientists are sharing their new knowledge with the world.

What better way to honor the ship’s namesake – Dr. Roger Revelle, former director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and a lifelong scientist who is credited with helping to discover the effects of global warming today – than to upgrade the ship with next-generation technology so it can continue its mission: Dr. Revelle is also a founder of ONR and helped establish UC San Diego.

ONR officially owns the Revelle, but the Scripps Institution of Oceanography operates the ship as a shared-use facility within the University-National Laboratory System (UNOLS). The R/V is available to all scientists that are supported by U.S. state, federal, and any other endorsed agencies. In addition, the data collected in any given deployment is shared worldwide.

The ship – built in 1996 – includes four different types of navigation systems including two main global positioning system (GPS) setups, navigation radars, acoustic position system, wind sensor, voyage data recorder, automatic vessel identification, and a voyage planning system.

According to information from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), the Revelle’s current “Hydrographic Doppler Sonar System is capable of measuring current shear at much higher resolutions than commercially available Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers.”

The dynamic positioning system enables precise ship handling and the ability to hold an exact position for long periods, according to the NOAA/EOR documents. This capability enables scientists to really get to work by launching and recovering sensors and instruments in some fairly treacherous areas where most other ships fail at the ability to stay steady at sea. (Figure 1.)

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Figure 1 | R/V Roger Revelle in Antarctica during a 2007 CLIVAR repeat hydrography mission in the south Indian Ocean. Photo courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
 

The ship’s onboard gear includes communications and data networks, expendable bathythermograph (XBT), and motion reference units. Its scientific equipment, however, specifically its sonar, is its main feature. When the ship returned from a long six-year deployment to sea in 2012, Dr. Theresa Paluszkiewicz, program director for physical oceanography at ONR, commented on the Revelle, “Her special sonar system has helped us gain new understandings on many fronts, including deep ocean flows and massive internal waves in the South China Sea, where commerce and the Navy operate.”

Stephen Kelety, marine superintendent at Scripps, asserts: “The Revelle belongs to a class of research vessels that can do things few other research ships can do. It can accommodate a large number of scientists and scientific equipment, operate in bad weather and high seas, and is adaptable to the research needs of the scientists onboard. It’s an important vessel for gathering scientific knowledge.”