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Depth of Learning

On the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the World Ocean Museum hosted an expert session, called “Approaches to Studying the World Ocean. From Vityaz to Promising Projects.” Organized with the support of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, the session became another event held within the Year of Science, announced by USC

The expert discussion involved the President of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, Alexey Rakhmanov; General Director of the World Ocean Museum, Svetlana Sivkova; Acting Director of the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Alexey Sokov; General Director of the Yantar Shipyard, Eduard Yefimov; members of research and academic institutions; and leading experts in the field. The session was moderated by Mikhail Flint, RAS associate member and Deputy Director for Sea and Ocean Ecology at the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology.

Held in Kaliningrad, it was more than just an immensely interesting discussion; the session also had a practical value: the scholars and shipbuilders discussed what research vessels of the future should be like and outlined the key areas of further collaboration. The expert session included a presentation of the concept design for the versatile research vessel, drawn up by the Almaz Central Marine Design Bureau. It was unveiled by the project’s chief designer, Alexey Kaifadzhyan.

In addition, the participants discussed future projects for studying the World Ocean, the strategy to renew the research vessel fleet, and the UN program Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Below you will find abstracts from some of the reports.

Alexey Rakhmanov
USC President

We proceed from the premise that the role of “big waters” for modern economy will continue to increase. Bioresources, minerals, alternative energy, and transportation routes – these are just some of the benefits of the World Ocean. We should keep in mind that the population of the Earth may reach 8.5 billion people by 2030 (according to a 2018 forecast of Russia’s National Research University of the Higher School of Economics). The global food demand will increase by 50%; and fresh water will become a most precious resource, required not only for the global economic growth, but also for the mere survival of mankind.

Together we are to submit our proposals to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. It is our obligation as a great sea and ocean power. The pressing need to develop the resources of the World Ocean will significantly boost global scientific studies. Consequently, the research fleets will become more technologically advanced. Acknowledging this, USC has been working painstakingly on the development and construction of next-generation research vessels. We have been drawing up concept designs for whole lineup of state-of-the-art research vessels, including a large Arctic seagoing ship and a versatile vessel for geological explorations in the World Ocean. Our colleagues from the Almaz Central Marine Design Bureau are presenting today one of the designs for such vessels. Two new oceanographic research vessels are already under development at Yantar and Zvyozdochka. 

Mikhail Flint
Deputy Director for Sea and Ocean Ecology, Shirshov Institute of Oceanology

The time is ripe for Russia to get out of stagnation in research and use of the World Ocean. It is vital for the existence of mankind. Oceans contain enormous deposits of the ores that people need today and that will be crucial for developing electronic industry in the near future. They run into billions of tons. If you look at the population level in narrow coastal areas, you will see that a lot more people live there than even the most densely populated places deep inside the continents. Oceans are also venues of military and political confrontation; and Russia must have a firm stand there.

In taking resources from the ocean, we are accountable for preserving its natural complexes. Today we see a competition between these two trends: to take advantage of the ocean and to take care of it.

The Maritime Doctrine of Russia has words, which sum it all up very clearly: the flags of Russian researchers and military must be present in all strategic areas of the World Ocean. As for the implementation of this goal, that’s just a technical thing, where we will depend on the amount of support from the state. I believe this is a fundamental point. Therefore, construction of new vessels should be treated as a cornerstone in the execution of the Maritime Doctrine, to which a huge number of people have given their time and thought.

Alexey Sokov
Acting Director, Shirshov Institute of Oceanology

Oceanology has reached a level where we won’t get along without research vessels for much longer, despite the development of other technical aids. There is an opinion that one can study oceans on models and make conclusions remotely. However, the real criteria of truth are still explorations and direct in-situ measurements. Huge areas of the World Ocean have not yet been covered with measurements, which are vital for making a good model. Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, no progress has been seen here; on the contrary, we have seen degradation in this field. The amount of data we have been receiving is by no means sufficient to evaluate the environment and develop oceanology.

There is a decision of the Russian Security Council, which recognizes that our research vessel fleet is in a critical condition. The fleet of our institute, which is a major research center in the field, consists of 12 unrestricted navigation vessels. All of them are obsolete, both morally and technically. Of course, you can invest money in upgrading these vessels – and this needs to be done. But new vessels are required, too. When the new World Ocean federal target program was being drawn up, we added to it a timeline for fleet renewal. Eight vessels were to be phased out and replaced with new ones. Unfortunately, the program has not been implemented, and this objective was not fulfilled.

No doubt the concept of the new vessel is also an important issue. Within the framework of the Science national project, a decision was made to build two new research vessels. In this respect, we work hand in hand with USC. The job of ocean scientists is clear: we must produce technical requirements to the vessel; and marine engineers will try to meet these requirements.

We have come to a concept of a multi-disciplinary modular vessel, which could perform different types of studies: biological, geological, physical, and geophysical. In other words, she should have all the necessary rooms and gear to support any expedition. And on the aft deck, she should have space for container laboratories, which would be installed individually for a concrete voyage. Besides general objectives, every expedition has its own specific ones. An extra set of containers would help you make your studies more advanced by using additional devices and engaging more professionals. The new vessel should also be multi-functional in terms of possible exploration areas: they should range from Arctic to tropical zones. Hence, appropriate seagoing qualities must be envisaged.

Anatoly Sagalevich
Head, Deep Sea Manned Submersibles Laboratory, Shirshov Institute of Oceanology

Of course, vessels are important, but they also need be equipped properly.

We managed to create the world’s best deep submergence vehicle — Mir. The Americans acknowledged this in 1994. When research vessel Keldysh with two 6,000-tonners went out to the ocean, the Pentagon was shocked. During 20 years of subsequent operation, we did more than any other manned submersible in the world in terms of the range of studies and special underwater activities.

Manned submersibles are more efficient than unmanned ones. You can ponder over the long voyages, danger, and other things, but we have completed a total of about 3,000 descents to various depths — and everyone is alive and in good health. Unique data have been obtained in various areas of the World Ocean. No other device in the world can boast such detailed exploration results as the ones produced by manned and unmanned submersibles.

Eduard Yefimov
General Director, Yantar Shipyard

We need to build a new fleet. Though the Yantar Shipyard has plenty of experience in building such vessels, for us this also means new challenges and new tasks. Since 2013, our shipyard has built two oceanographic research vessels: Seliger and Yantar. Two more are currently under construction: Yevgeny Gorigledzhan and Almaz. The experience gained during their construction enables us to make high-end vessels.

We have now kicked off construction of a new fishing fleet; these are also pretty sophisticated vessels, packed with equipment. To build them quickly and efficiently, we need tighter cooperation not only with the design organizations, but primarily with the customers – starting from the first steps, from the very idea. And the shipyard is aiming to take an active part in this. An upgrade is required for the shipyard’s machinery and technologies; and we definitely envisage it in our development plans. Another high priority goal is to train new specialists that would help us make these specific vessel types. It is one of the cornerstones of our personnel education programs. Summing up, I would like to emphasize that construction of such vessels is a promising area for the Yantar Shipyard. And we are ready to build them!

Vadim Sivkov
Director, Atlantic Branch, Shirshov Institute of Oceanology

I am ready to describe the problems of the World Ocean in three words. The first one is “garbage.” The World Ocean has seas of garbage. There are different kinds of garbage, but our major concern is the growing pollution with plastic. It is not a matter of aesthetics; it is a matter of human health. And we are just beginning to address this problem.

The second word is “medicines.” Mankind is weak and ill. Noxious organisms are adapting to all the antibiotics. However, the World Ocean has Antarctic waters flowing next to exothermal springs. In those extreme conditions, you can find microorganisms, which can be used as the basis for making new drugs. Studies in this area have already begun; and we, ocean scientists, might be useful here.

The third word is “climate.” Everyone is concerned with it; thousands of people are working on this matter. As for our institute and Russian oceanology in general, a motion has been made to monitor deep Arctic waters. The point is that a time bomb ticking on the bottom of the ocean — carbon bound in gas hydrates. Should the temperature of bottom waters change by 0.1 degree, we may see a massive outburst of methane, and hence, carbon emission into the atmosphere. This may have a significant impact on the fauna and create a greenhouse effect. We need to set up continuous monitoring of deep bottom waters of the World Ocean in places with high concentration of gas hydrates. This is serious and deserves our attention.

Sergey Shapovalov
Head, Center for Coordination of Ocean Research, Shirshov Institute of Oceanology

Last year, at the 51st session of the Executive Council of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the member states adopted a roadmap for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. The roadmap laid down the overarching goals of this UN program. The first one is “to generate the scientific knowledge and underpinning infrastructure and partnerships needed for sustainable development of the ocean.”

The second goal reads: “To provide ocean science, data and information to inform policies for a well-functioning ocean…”

Satellite mapping of the ocean enabled us to see ocean surface at a pretty high resolution. As of the bottom of the World Ocean, we are able to see only 5% of its area at a resolution like this. Therefore, one of the priorities is to produce a detailed map like this, where we could see all the oceans with their ecosystems and physical and chemical properties, and make this information accessible.

The global ocean observing system comprises various aids, including floating, diving, and fixed buoys, ship observations, and others. This system is to be enhanced and expanded.

Another priority area is the study of marine ecosystems. Within a decade, it is envisaged to set up exchange of data relating to oceanography and ocean characteristics. A relevant portal is to be launched and made freely available to all.

Another ocean phenomenon, which causes major economic damage and sometimes massive casualties, is the occurrence of natural hazards. A warning system needs to be developed. The tsunami warning system is operating quite effectively today. Similar systems should be established to address other threats as well, including floods, algal blooms, etc.

The next priority area is the ocean in Earth-system observation. There is a global observation system in place, and the role of oceans is not reflected well enough in it. For the models, which we’ve been talking about all the time, to be able to accurately predict natural phenomena and describe the condition of the Earth (though this could happen only in the remote future), they need to integrate the ocean. Of course, tremendous observation and data collection systems would be required in all media of the environment.

In the end, we should not forget about capacity building, technology transfer, training, and education. This is possibly the most important objective, since many nations have no capabilities whatsoever to conduct ocean study and monitoring. Therefore, we must, firstly, empower them with the capacity to do observations and, secondly, bring up new generations that understand the ocean and how we benefit from it. The third aim is to set up professional training and education, starting from the very basic level.


There were plenty of other interesting reports, too. Unfortunately, the format of this magazine does not allow us to give a full account of them. Eventually, all the participants of the discussion agreed that such events were useful: they foster ties in shipbuilding and fundamental science, help establish new forms of collaboration, make you take a broader look on the problems of the World Ocean, and attract public attention to these issues.

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