The International SeaKeepers Society is looking for a few good yachts for a good cause. The group, long associated with installation of ocean data gathering instruments on superyachts, has announced the creation of what it calls the Scientific Vessel of Opportunity yacht fleet. The program offers yacht owners and crew the opportunity to host leading scientists on vital research missions aboard their yachts. In launching the Scientific VOP yacht fleet, SeaKeepers will use its contacts in both the marine scientific and luxury yacht communities to connect the two groups in the common goal of advancing marine science.
“At a time of dramatically shrinking research budgets, finding platforms for performing marine research is one of the most limiting factors for finding out what’s happening in the oceans,” said oceanographer and marine engineer Kevin Hardy of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. “Never in history have we had more need of data to understand the scope and impact of the rapidly changing ocean environment. Perhaps more than any other category of oceangoing vessel, yachts could play a significant role in filling the voids in our knowledge about the seas.”
“Because of our ongoing mission of using yachts to autonomously gather data for scientists using our SK1000 monitoring system, we are uniquely positioned to expand our mission by physically connecting scientists and willing yachts,” said Jim Gilbert, SeaKeepers Society board member. “The Scientific Vessel Opportunity yacht fleet is very much a natural extension of our existing programs and activities.”
As a kick-off project, the Society is looking for one or two yachts transiting the Atlantic in the late spring and fall of 2012 to participate in a project Hardy has developed to explore the deep oceans in search of new life forms, physical and mineral composition and previously unseen ocean bottom structures. Hardy has developed a unique, compact robotic rover that is easily deployed from a yacht and can then be left for many months on their own to photograph and record vital images and data, then return to the sea surface to report their findings via satellite. Once this information has been transmitted, the robots then automatically return to the ocean floor to capture a new set of data.
“The single biggest impediment to understanding more about the changes taking place in our oceans is actually getting to the different parts of the ocean we need to study,” Hardy said. “Consider that the cost of chartering a research vessel is sometimes more than building the instrument itself. This poses a financial challenge in every research mission, but especially now in this time of global financial downturn and constricted budgets in every government agency and research institution.”
The so-called Project Yacht Deep Atlantic would consist of a yacht or yachts deploying one or two robotic explorers as they make their crossings. Since eastbound yachts tend to take a more northerly route in spring and westbound yachts a more southerly route in fall, ideally, the Society would like to find an early crosser and a later crosser in each direction, with the early one dropping the device and the later one picking it up, say a month or six weeks apart. The devices weigh less than 60 pounds and are accompanied by a 75-pound anchor. Deploying them will take less than an hour. A scientist would accompany the devices on the crossings. On the return trip, the devices would be located via GPS signals, and retrieved by the yacht. Depending on sea conditions, Hardy estimates it will take less than three hours to physically locate and retrieve the devices.
The prospects of finding new and unique things are quite high in this mission, Hardy said. In three of the last four of his deep ocean explorations missions he has identified entirely new life forms. “If you go someplace where no one has ever been, you find things nobody has ever seen before.”