Onboard an Oceanographic Research Vessel
We live on a vast, underexplored planet that is largely ocean.
About 70% of the world is covered by water and despite modern technology, GPS navigation, and advanced engineering of vessels, the ocean is still unforgiving. Coastal navigation, with risks of running aground and inconsistent weather and sea patterns, can also be challenging and hazardous. Incomplete data limits our ability to make basic predictions about ocean weather, assess the environmental impact of oil spills, or estimate the impact of changes to ocean acidification. A large portion of our knowledge of the ocean floor is based on lead-line measurements or echo soundings.
For recreational boaters, a healthy marine environment is fundamental. It literally floats our boats. But the ocean also affects those who do not boat: Scientists agree that there’s oxygen from ocean plants in every breath we take. Most of this oxygen comes from phytoplankton that live near the water’s surface and drift with the currents. Like all plants, they use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make food. A byproduct of this photosynthesis is oxygen.
Even with the aid of satellites and autonomous underwater vehicles, we lack fundamental data relating to our oceans. But the more than 300 research vessels worldwide are helping to fill in these gaps. A new addition to this ever-expanding fleet was recently launched on Florida’s west coast, and I was invited aboard for a sea trial.