The sophisticated research vessel the RV Thomas G. Thompson linked to the University of Washington in the United States is on its way to New Zealand on the first leg of a world tour.
The tour, according to The Daily website of the University of Washington, will help scientists better understand ocean climates, marine ecosystems, volcanoes, subduction zones, and anything else that an oceanographer can dream of researching.
The Thompson is a research vessel owned by the US Navy and operated by the University of Washington (UW) School of Oceanography. The ship has room for 59 including a crew of 21.
“It’s not an ice-capable vessel so you wouldn’t send it into the Arctic Ocean or close to Antarctica” said William S.D. Wilcock, an associate director at the School of Oceanography.
“It can go pretty much anywhere in the open ocean.”
The Thompson recently completed 18 months of upgrades and refitting that included brand-new diesel engines. There’s also new control systems, a refurbished bridge, and numerous navigation and scientific upgrades that ensure the Thompson is able to conduct the latest scientific research.
“Our reliability has gone way up,” said Captain Doug Russell, manager of marine operations at the School of Oceanography.
The $US52 million refit is expected to extend the life of the vessel by another 20-25 years.
While sailing to New Zealand, the Thompson will first drop Argo floats, which is an international system of over 3,800 floats that measure the ocean’s salinity and temperature with high-quality readings taken at various depths. Their location is tracked by satellite and then sent back to Argo’s data system where information from the floats can be viewed and used by oceanographers around the world.
They will also map an underwater mountain for scientists in New Zealand, helping oceanographers further understand how the chemistry of oceans changes overtime.
The Thompson should arrive in Auckland, by the end of February where it will be met by scientists and students from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, an independent non-profit research organization, and oceanographers from the United States, New Zealand, and Germany.
Once in Auckland, they will bring the Thompson north to Brothers Volcano, an active submarine caldera volcano in the Kermadec Arc, about 340 kilometres north-east of North Island.
The party will examine the seafloor hot springs in the caldera of the arc volcano using a remotely-operated vehicle. The submersible, nicknamed Jason, is capable of exploring the ocean floor at depths of up to 6,500 metres, tethered and powered by a 10-km reinforced fibre-optic cable.
The party plans to conduct a heat flow study to try to understand how fluids travel throughout the volcano. They also plan to collect geological samples of the volcanic rock and black smoke chimneys that form at submarine hot springs, as well as analyse the chemistry of the fluids shooting through them and a biological survey of the microorganisms that live there.
“It’s actually an unusual volcano,” Humphris said. “It has two submarine hot spring systems in its caldera that have very different chemistries.”
Humphris hopes to better understand how the hot springs influence the chemistry of sea water, how the springs form oil deposits, and what role they play in cycling elements between Earth’s crust and the ocean.
“One of the really cool things about the Thompson is that it’s got a lot of different instrumentation that’s running continuously,” said Brendan Philip, a graduate student at the School of Oceanography.
“There’s measurements being made continuously of ocean temperature, sound velocity if you’re interested in acoustics, and salinity. Data that can help inform their research.”