‘New Ship Smell’ and Cutting-Edge Tech Aboard the Research Vessel Sally Ride

140808-N-PO203-163The Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research vessel R/V Sally Ride (AGOR 28) is prepared for a christening ceremony at Dakota Creek Industries, Inc. shipyard in Anacortes, Wash. R/V Sally Ride is the second in the Neil Armstrong-class of research vessels and features a modern suite of oceanographic and acoustic ocean mapping equipment. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

By Warren Duffie Jr.
Office of Naval Research

Melissa Miller, a scientist and marine technician at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has intimate knowledge about life on a scientific research vessel.

With a quick laugh and friendly personality, Miller, a chemist, has sailed on 11 ships and completed 25 research cruises during her career. She has traveled more than 50,000 miles, reached the North Pole, crossed each ocean and visited every continent except for Antarctica.

While she sailed on well-equipped, immensely capable research ships, she says none can match the technological prowess of her current one — the research vessel Sally Ride.

“This ship is fantastic,” said Miller. “It’s like the shipbuilders took all the knowledge and experience gained by the U.S. academic research fleet over the years, and distilled it to design a truly state-of-the-art experience.”

The Navy and Scripps: A Pioneering Partnership

Miller was among more than 20 scientists, engineers and graduate students on a recent science verification cruise to the Pacific Ocean’s La Jolla canyon region off Southern California’s coast. Much of the research conducted was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The Sally Ride is one of two brand-new research vessels added this year to the academic research fleet, a collection of ships that conduct scientific experiments worldwide. Owned and built by the U.S. Navy, the Sally Ride is operated by Scripps under a charter lease agreement with ONR, which funds and oversees the Navy’s ocean science and technology efforts.

Terrific Tech

A robotic arm aboard the Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessel R/V Sally Ride is used to retrieve a scientific instrument that measures underwater conditions in the La Jolla canyon during science verification cruise designed to test installed systems and ensure readiness for conducting future research missions. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

A robotic arm aboard the Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessel R/V Sally Ride is used to retrieve a scientific instrument that measures underwater conditions in the La Jolla canyon during science verification cruise designed to test installed systems and ensure readiness for conducting future research missions. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

In addition to being new –there’s even a “new ship smell” consisting of a unique blend of fresh paint, oiled wood and salt air— the Sally Ride boasts impressive technology geared toward making life easier and more productive for the crew and scientists than in days of yore.

Its cranes are more powerful and able to lift heavier objects than previous research vessels. For example, an A-frame crane resembling a giant doorway can scoop up 30,000 pounds easily, perfect for lowering small boats onto the water or hauling scientific devices from the sea floor. An aptly named knuckle boom crane, which looks like a massive finger joint, can carry 22,000 pounds of gear or water and soil samples. Robotic load-handling cranes can deploy and recover heavy equipment over the side of the Sally Ride; computer controlled, they surpass traditional winch-and-pulley systems used on older research ships.

To see under the sea, the Sally Ride features sophisticated multibeam sonar, echosounders and imaging systems—allowing it to map the ocean floor in sharper detail and even distinguish between species of fish and other marine life.

The Sally Ride also has advanced IT infrastructure to support scientific analysis at sea while maintaining real-time communications with shore; a computerized positioning system uses thrusters to keep the ship on a fixed spot, even when whipped by winds and waves; and its specially designed hull minimizes bubbles sweeping below and underneath—helping the Sally Ride run quieter.

That enhanced hull appeals to Scripps research scientist Ana Sirovic, whose ONR-funded research involves underwater acoustic recorders and echosounders that monitor the distribution of blue and fin whales throughout the waters of Southern California. The data gathered will help the Navy better understand whale migration patterns and behavior to avoid putting them at risk during naval exercises.

Sara Goheen, an engineer with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, operates a crane aboard the Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessel R/V Sally Ride during the retrieval of scientific equipment as part of a science verification cruise in order to test installed systems and ensure the vessels readiness for conducting future research missions. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

Sara Goheen, an engineer with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, operates a crane aboard the Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research (AGOR) vessel R/V Sally Ride during the retrieval of scientific equipment as part of a science verification cruise in order to test installed systems and ensure the vessels readiness for conducting future research missions. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

“This ship runs really silent,” said Sirovic. “I’m very excited about future acoustic and sonar research that will take place on this ship.”

And it’s another powerful chapter in the decades-long story of collaboration between Scripps, the U.S. Navy and the Office of Naval Research.

Warren Duffie Jr. is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications. He wrote this aboard the R/V Sally Ride during a just-completed scientific verification cruise.

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