One of the major draw cards for the Earth Sciences comes from the tantalizing prospect of field work. And for marine scientists, this couldn’t be more exciting than when field work involves a trip on a research vessel; an excursion we affectionately call going on a “cruise”*. I have not had the pleasure of sailing onboard Australia’s RV Southern Surveyor and opportunity is fading fast with the Research Vessel’s imminent decommissioning.
Instead, the Australian marine science community will set forth into our watery future aboard the RV Investigator, which in similar fashion to its namesake will be able to circumnavigate our great continent, survive battering by fierce storms and potentially be required to serve for ~70 years. But it’s not the capabilities that the two Investigators share that have the oceanographers amongst us all aquiver, but the technological modifications that distinguish them. Not least the fact it has its very own blog, there is also talk of winged keels, dual polarisation weather radar and ‘work’ boats straight from the set of Baywatch (okay so they are orange, other than that they have nothing in common with Baywatch).
The winged keel, or gondola, is designed so that sensitive instrumentation can sit below the wash of bubbles created by turbulence around the hull; including swath mappers that will build topographic maps of the seafloor below, and sub-bottom profilers that indicate the make up of sediments in the seafloor. Drop keels will also enable uninterrupted acoustic profiling and uncontaminated water sampling. Way above the ship a 1.75 tonne weather research radar will be able to differentiate the mixture of water and ice, and even crystal structure, in the clouds above, improving weather forecasting and climate model predictions for tropical monsoon to polar cloud systems.
For a more earnest report on of some of the excellent design features of the new ship, click here, or you can check out the Investigator’s blog here, that includes a peek at the new aerosol laboratory and a fridge large enough to park a Baywatch work boat in .
* Don’t be mislead however, it aint all cocktails and shuffleboard. The two ‘cruises’ I have been on involved 12-14 hours shifts, hard physical labour and a ‘dry’ ship! Even with the mocktails, I’d go out again in a heartbeat.