US fleet that tracks climate change shrinking, study says

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(WASHINGTON) — A new study has found that the fleet of research vessels used by the United States to assess and measure climate change is shrinking, reported. 

According to the study released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the U.S. must expand its fleet of research vessels to accurately measure and assess the effects of climate change. "The decreasing number of global and ocean-class research vessels is creating a shortfall in the infrastructure required for sampling the global ocean and expanding collection into the polar regions," the committee said. "These vessels are indispensable to the ocean observing system."

Robert Weller of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, co-chairman of the committee that conducted the study, said large vessels are an integral component of the observational system used to monitor climate change. He said that about 15 years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had three large oceangoing ships to collect samples and data. A plan was devised to replace those ships at the end of their life cycles with two new ships, but only Ronald H. Brown was built. Today it is the sole large ship carrying out observations.

In the past, Weller said, researchers believed autonomous sampling from smaller vessels would remove the need for people aboard the larger vessels, but that has proven to be false. "For a number of reasons, there is probably an even greater demand for ships now," he said, noting the increasingly ice-free polar oceans, which are dangerous and require larger vessels to navigate in the choppy waters. 

Currently there are 35 vessels in the fleet, but according to a report provided to by the NAS, that number will decrease to 18 to 22 vessels by 2027 unless more ships are built to replace them.

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By Professional Mariner Staff