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Scientific flotillia

deputy director for fleet, P.P.Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russian Academy of Sciences

Specialized research vessels appeared not so long ago and quickly became an invaluable tool for the studies of the World Ocean

In the age of satellites and unmanned technologies, research vessels have not lost their relevance. Nowadays, when the leading world nations are opening the new epoch of “big water” exploration, a powerful scientific fleet becomes a prerequisite for the competitive ability of the states.   

Until the middle of the 19th century, oceanologists, as a rule, were engaged in collection and accumulation of statistical data on concrete sea and ocean basins. Such studies were mainly of a descriptive character; transport and fishing vessels were adapted temporarily to carry them out, and sometimes even warships were used for those purposes. In this approach, scientific equipment and measurement instruments were operated with the help of organic deck mechanisms and onboard lifting devices. The processing of the data, collected at sea, was carried out onshore in most cases. Starting from the second half of the 19th century, after major gaps in the description of ocean and sea expanses had been filled, scientists launched a detailed study of complicated interdependent processes in the World Ocean. To perform this mission, ordinary ships and vessels were either ineffective or inapplicable at all. As a result, some of them were reequipped into specialized research vessels. The English became pioneers of this approach. In 1872 they reequipped “The Challenger” sail and motor corvette into a research vessel for hydrological, biological and meteorological works.    

In 1899, by Russia’s order, the Bremer Vulcan shipyard in Germany built the world’s first specially-equipped steam vessel “Andrei Pervozvanny” (“Murman” since 1910) with a displacement of 410 tons, which was designed for the scientific research in the northern latitudes. It hosted hydrological and biological laboratories, as well as onboard equipment for trawling and hydrographic works.

In 1923 the first Soviet oceanographic research vessel “Perseus” was built. It was equipped intentionally for complex research studies in the Arctic seas. Later on, vessels of various types were used for the scientific research purposes. They became expeditionary research vessels by means of small adjustments. After the end of the Great Patriotic War, a new stage in the development of research fleet started. It was distinguished by more complex tasks, as well as by the increased capabilities of related industries, primarily instrument making, radio electronics and energy engineering. In order to ensure systematic and seamless research studies in oceans and seas, the first Soviet post-war research vessel was commissioned in 1949. It was the “Vityaz” vessel, converted from the German “Mars” and fitted with such onboard scientific equipment, which was the most advanced for that time. During the second half of the 20th century, the research fleet of the USSR was replenished by many vessels, which successfully participated in marine research studies. Unfortunately, in 1990-ies, the expeditionary activities and the number of vessels in the research fleet reduced considerably.  

Research vessels still maintain status of major tools to study the Global Ocean 

The technological advancements have led by now to the availability of new devices for the research of the World Ocean. Those are primarily satellite systems and autonomous buoys.  Nevertheless, research vessels are still the main tool to explore the “big water”. Of course, they differ from one another, which is predetermined by their specificity (e.g., drilling vessels) and geography of application (vessels, operating in open ocean, polar areas or in littoral or internal seas). The general requirements to the present-day research vessels, defining their efficiency both as instrument platforms and transportation assets, are often contradictory, so there a compromise to be reached here in order to find the best possible solution. Notwithstanding, let us try to formulate the main criteria, towards which the optimal research vessels should orient.     

Let us begin with the hull geometry. First, it should provide for a good controllability and capability to hold the given direction of movement at low speeds while working with towed assets (course stability), and to counter rolling as much as possible, which will help to have more effective time for overside working. At the same time, the vessel should be capable of moving quickly from one research zone to another in order that to reduce time wasting.  

Secondly, the hull lines should create good fairness and prevent the generation of eddy convection and formation of air bubbles in the marine environment under the bottom of the vessel in order to avoid interference with the operation of hydroacoustic equipment.

One can see dualism of requirements to the propulsion plant, i.e. it should be reliable, economical and quiet. Vibration and noises, generated by the propulsion plants in vessels’ movement, interfere with acoustic measurements. At the same time, the power of the vessel should be sufficiently reliable to be able to provide for the operation of the whole set of shipboard and research equipment. It is critically important to duplicate the power supply of scientific laboratories and equipment to ensure continuous operation in case of unforeseen failures of the main power system.

A set of propulsors is needed for the vessel in order to be able to provide its stability at a point with given coordinates. It will permit to work with heavy geological equipment, plunged to the seabed, and to provide for the precise spatial positioning of submerged underwater vehicles and other equipment. The pulling-and-running mechanisms, used for the lowering and lifting of measurement equipment, should be equipped with the rolling compensation devices on a compulsory basis. The pulling hoists, used for the research purposes, must be placed in rooms, protected from the impact of the marine environment, and controlled from a single post.    

The vessel should host general purpose laboratory facilities, which will accommodate equipment, do sampling and analysis, perform data processing. An organic place for specialized and standardized container laboratories should be also envisaged. This will help to reconfigure the vessel swiftly for the performance of various research missions, and to use the space on the main deck in a rational manner. For sure, all the laboratory facilities and containers should be incorporated in a computer network, while all the vessel facilities should provide uninterrupted online communication of the expedition with the coastal scientific units and access to ground information resources and databases. The set of the onboard research equipment, which is installed in a fixed manner, should necessarily include an echo sounder complex, a weather station, a Doppler system for measuring currents and a continuous flow system to measure characteristics of the water surface layer.

 Last, but not least, the vessel should have comfortable housing conditions for the crew members and scientific staff, working in romantic, but still quite uneasy maritime conditions. 


Scientific flotillia
Scientific flotillia