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Texas A&M scientists use new research ship to study Gulf

Written by Nick Blenkey

Falkor-photoOCTOBER 3, 2012 — Scientists with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) and the College of Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will study the oceanography of the South Texas coast, including influences on the distribution of red tide while aboard the R/V Falkor in October. The study is just one of many research projects that will be conducted by the scientists on the oceanographic research vessel which is outfitted with some of the most sophisticated scientific instruments in the world.

The R/V Falkor is being provided by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, Palo Alto, Calif., free of charge for two cruise legs from September 17-29 and October 8-23.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) maintains and operates the R/V Falkor as a multi-functional ocean research platform that supports scientific research at sea by providing the collaborating scientists with free access to research vessels, on-board equipment, and associated technical support in exchange for a commitment to openly share the resulting scientific data.

“The R/V Falkor is not only an excellent research vessel, but also provides a wonderful teaching opportunity for the University’s marine biology and marine science graduate students,” said Dr. Tom Shirley, chief scientist of the first cruise leg.

Dr. Shirley, a recently retired professor of Life Sciences and former endowed chair of Biodiversity and Conservation Science at the HRI, submitted the current research proposals for the R/V Falkor.

“Because of the scope and depth of our research in the Gulf of Mexico, we are now the beneficiaries of the first cruise legs of this new research ship,” said Dr. Wes Tunnell, HRI associate director and endowed chair for Biodiversity and Conservation Science. “The vessel would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and we get it to use it for free!”

During the first leg, HRI scientists studied and mapped the South Texas Banks, a series of late Pleistocene-early Holocene coral-algal bank on the continental shelf edge between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. On the second leg, they will study fish usage of artificial reefs on the South Texas continental shelf and distribution of the organism responsible for red tide, as well as continue tagging sharks, snappers, and other sea creatures.

“The HRI is thrilled to be some of the first scientists on this ship equipped with the latest technology to help meet our research needs,” said Tunnell. “This is an amazing opportunity for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, so it is our goal to make the most of it scientifically.”

“One of the challenges of oceanographers is really having an opportunity to go to sea, and having a suitable platform from which to conduct their research,” said Eric King, director of Marine Operations for the SOI. “With over 90 percent of the ocean unexplored, there is a huge body of water that we want to be able to allow access to the scientists to get to, to collect their data and turn around and be able to use that data for all sorts of good things.”

R/V Falkor can support operations such as over-the-side deployments, laboratory work in wet and dry lab areas, acoustic research using special instrumentation, mammal and bird observation on weather protected upper deck areas, and operations and outreach requiring continuous global Internet access, provided via C-Band VSAT.

Built in 1981 in Lübeck Germany, as the German Fisheries Protection vessel Seefalke, the vessel was purchased from the German government in 2011 and then converted into a research ship at the Peters Schiffbau shipyard in Wewelsfleth, Germany.

The R/V Falkor now provides on-board accommodations for 40, including 20 crew members required for operations at sea. The remaining 20 berths will be available to accommodate mission-specific scientific and technical personnel.

The 82.9 m (272 ft) LOA ship has a beam of 13 m (42.7 ft), freeboard of 2.275 m (7.5 ft), and draft of 5.8 m (19 ft), including the sonar gondola. The main propulsion power totals 5,882 kW or 7,888 hp. Post-refit R/V Falkor cruising range and endurance are estimated at 8,000 nautical miles and 28 days of steaming respectively (fuel-limited), at cruising speed of 12 knots. On-board accommodations are sufficient for up to 40 persons, including 20 crew members required for operations at sea.

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