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Mon July 2, 2012
Ocean Science Dreamboat?
When filmmaker James Cameron flipped the typical deep-sea submersible on end, it was cool ... because it worked. In March of this year, he took his sci-fi-like sub to the deepest point in the ocean, becoming only the third person to visit the spot. Scientists hailed the expedition as a success for ocean science, not just Cameron.
Now comes news that construction is due to begin this year on a revolutionary redesign of the standard research vessel. Designed by Jacques Rougerie, a French architect with a thing for the ocean (and space),SeaOrbiter has been compared to the starship Enterprise. Like Cameron's sub, SeaOrbiter sits vertically in the water, with over half the ship below the surface to provide both ballast and underwater viewing/access that is at the core of the vessel's ocean science mission.
But can the trick work a second time? Can Rougerie pull off a Cameron-like coupe?
In a fabulous post on Deep Sea News, Miriam Goldstein raises some tough, practical questions about SeaOrbiter and provides a glimpse of what it takes to get ocean research done. Goldstein wants to be a believer, but her experience just won't get out of the way and let her make the leap:
Awesome! I totally want to live underwater in the open sea! Sign me up please! Except there’s one critical problem. There’s no way to deploy or retrieve equipment. The tools of ocean science – the CTD, the rosette, nets, corers, and even remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) – cannot be used from this platform. Apparently the only things that you can actually do is mount sensors to the hull and look at stuff through the windows. That’s not enough. Even hull-mounted sensors like acoustics need to be tested by actually catching animals in the ocean.
Goldstein goes on to explain just why the standard, horizontal ship with a big, flat fantail is so well suited to oceanography. The only time I've spent aboard oceanographic research vessels is during tours at the dock (I would be most grateful to anyone offering to correct this omission), so I'm not going to contradict her. And I'm absolutely willing to accept that SeaOrbiter may not be all it's cracked up to be. But it does get me wondering: if ocean scientists had $50 million (the approximate cost of SeaOrbiter) and some game designers at their disposal, would the end result be just another standard research vessel? Scientists - what's your dream ship?