Notes from the scientific expedition team aboard the NOAA ShipNancy Foster (March 15 -April 3):
The Importance of the Research Vessel
By Colin Kliewer, Operations Officer on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
There will always be a need to study the ocean environment. To do this, scientists need a key component for their work at sea - a ship dedicated to supporting the research.
For many years, the vessel of choice for projects such as this one has been the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. It has multiple strengths to make a research project like this one off the coast of St. Croix a success. One is the ship's on-board equipment. The sonar instruments that we map the bottom with are built into the bottom of the ship. An array of navigation instruments and motion sensors ensure that the mapping data are very accurate, despite the ship's movement with the wind and waves. Cranes and winches are used to lower equipment - such as the remotely operated vehicle (ROV), water chemistry instruments, and even small dive boats - into the water.
Another strength is space for the scientists to live and work at sea. Nancy Foster has a large open deck for stowing and using scientific equipment for all kinds of projects. A large wet lab is available to analyze water samples and biological specimens collected from the depths, and a data lab provides ample room and computer resources to collect and process enormous amounts of data while out at sea. Staterooms for sleeping, a movie lounge, a gym, and a large mess (eating area) provide opportunities for the scientists and ship's crew to relax after a long work day.
Third, and most important, Nancy Foster provides a team of highly trained and experienced personnel that make up the ship's permanent crew members. Commissioned officers of the NOAA Corps control the ship's operations from the bridge. Civilian mariners operate the cranes, winches, and other deck equipment to deploy science gear into the water. Licensed engineers keep the ship running and maintained. Survey technicians and an electronics technician help the scientists with data collection and computer technology support. And two stewards are at the center of everyone's morale as they serve three tasty meals a day, everyday, to everyone aboard.