After 43 years and traveling more than 1 million nautical miles around the globe, one of the University of Rhode Island’s hardest workers will be retiring next year. The 185-foot long R/V Endeavor, the university’s research vessel based at the Narragansett Bay Campus, will be decommissioned and sold after having completed more than 650 scientific research expeditions in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Mediterranean and Black Seas, Gulf of Mexico and as far as Easter Island in the South Pacific.
“The ship has an outstanding record of achievement and has carried the URI and Rhode Island flag proudly across the oceanographic community as our ambassador,” said Bruce Corliss, dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, which operates the ship for its owner, the National Science Foundation. “It has a reputation for having a committed captain, crew and support staff who really go out of their way to help the scientists have a successful cruise. And that really makes a difference to the researchers.”
According to Corliss, who will be retiring in the spring, Endeavor is well past the typical 30-year life of a research ship, which is why it is being retired.
“Older boats like this don’t have the scientific technological capability that modern research demands,” he said. “And with age, they become increasingly challenging and expensive to maintain. That’s a spiral that we don’t want to get into.”
Yet Rhode Islanders can be proud of how Endeavor contributed to the scientific understanding of the oceans and helped to educate teachers, students and young scientists since being commissioned in1976, when it was one of the first ships in the nation designed as a research vessel. Its first cruise was in response to an oil spill from the M/V Argo Merchant near Nantucket. It served in a similar capacity in the Gulf of Mexico 34 years later following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And during a 14-day expedition to search for geologic evidence of an earthquake off Haiti in 2010, the ship delivered humanitarian aid to the people of that devastated nation.
Local schoolteachers are among those who have benefitted from traveling aboard Endeavor to get hands-on experience in oceanographic research through the Rhode Island Teachers at Sea program. And as they all attest, one of the most memorable parts of the experience was the food. The ship has won the Best Grub Award among ships in the academic fleet several times.
“It really does have superb food, and it’s important to highlight how important that is on a research cruise,” Corliss said. “The morale of the ship can rise or fall with the food. People are working really hard, not getting a lot of sleep, they have all sorts of stress trying to get their work done under difficult conditions, and having these great meals is something they really look forward to.”
As Endeavor is retired and likely sold to a foreign government or research institution, URI will welcome a new research vessel in 2022. The R/V Resolution, which is now under construction in Louisiana, will provide oceanographic researchers with state-of-the-art technology.
The $125 million, 199-foot Resolution will have a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles, with berths for 16 scientists and 13 crew members and a maximum speed of 13 knots. The ship will be able to stay at sea for about 21 days before returning to port and will routinely send streams of research data to shore via satellite.
“It will have dynamic positioning, which means that with the ocean bottom a mile beneath you, we’ll be able to lower a piece of equipment and hit a target on the bottom,” explained Corliss. “Much of the equipment onboard will be automated, making it much safer and more efficient. And it includes lots of things that will address environmental sustainability.”
For instance, the hull design was chosen for its fuel efficiency, and heat from the engine room will be recaptured and used in the heating system. Many of the environmental advancements in the ship’s design were the result of workshops URI hosted for boat builders and the scientific community aimed at improving the sustainability of research vessels.
Resolution will be operated by the URI-led East Coast Oceanographic Consortium, which includes the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of New Hampshire, along with 13 other marine science institutions along the East Coast.
“The consortium will bring other perspectives and expertise into ship operations that will only improve and strengthen what we do,” Corliss said. “But the real potential of the consortium is scientific collaboration and educational collaboration – the bringing together of workers and researchers from other institutions. That’s going to be the big payoff.”
The consortium was required to submit a complex proposal to compete with other oceanographic institutions around the country seeking one of the few ships being constructed this decade by the National Science Foundation. It was one of Corliss’s most important assignments as dean, and he wasn’t prepared to lose.
“A ship provides broad visibility to the university and the state that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said. “That’s basically what separates oceanographic institutions from marine biological stations. And having that capability provides an important means of doing education and outreach, being able to take students out to sea, and taking schoolteachers aboard. Those things would be lost if we didn’t have a vessel.”