BIOS marine superintendent and ship captain Quentin Lewis is calling the months ahead for the Institute’s research vessel the Atlantic Explorer “very healthy in terms of operating days.” At the start of 2021, BIOS has 195 days at sea funded for science programs, he said.
“That’s the most days ever for the ship since it began operating at BIOS in 2006,” Lewis said. Last year’s schedule included 170 funded days at sea.
This year’s increased utilization of the ship is due, in large part, to two long-term research programs at locations offshore Bermuda, operated by BIOS faculty members. The programs extend ongoing, multi-decade records of physical, biological, and chemical properties of the North Atlantic Ocean.
“As the ship’s primary users, these programs are successfully bringing in other ship users who recognize the significance and importance of the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) and Hydrostation ‘S’ programs, as well as the vessel’s important role in the U.S. oceanographic research community,” Lewis said.
Last March, operations across the fleet of University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) ships were shuttered in response to the global COVID-19 crisis, postponing science cruises and sending the Atlantic Explorer into an early maintenance period in Florida, with guidance from UNOLS and the National Science Foundation.
Under strict quarantine at a Jacksonville, FL shipyard, the vessel’s crew, marine technicians, and shipboard personnel completed the majority of ship repairs and modifications (originally scheduled for July and August) and had the ship back to BIOS for operation in June.
Strict safety regulations surrounding use of the ship during the coronavirus pandemic, and at least three dozen revisions to the ship’s schedule over the summer and fall, allowed scientists to complete 130 operating days in 2020, more than 75 percent of the original 170 funded days. It was “one of the highest percentages of all the UNOLS ships” operating under the pandemic’s circumstances, Lewis said.
All BIOS crew and technicians have been working throughout the pandemic, Lewis added.
“That’s an accomplishment that I am personally very proud of,” he said.
The 170-foot research vessel can carry a crew of 12 and a scientific party of 22 researchers, students, and technicians for up to 28 days. It is also equipped with teaching laboratories.
Since its arrival at BIOS, the ship has supported research projects and partnerships in a variety of scientific disciplines, with resident faculty and visiting scientists from ocean science institutions around the world.