IN­SIDE LOOK

On­board an Oceano­graphic Re­search Ves­sel

Passage Maker - - Contents - Bill Ja­cobs

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.

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