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About the Siquliaq

The Research Vessel Sikuliaq will replace the more than 40-year old R/V Alpha Helix that is now retired and was owned by the National Science Foundation. The need for a more capable ship to operate in the coastal and open ocean waters of the Alaska region was first recognized by marine scientists in the U.S. in 1973. In 2001, Congress appropriated $1M for a design study. Sufficient ice strengthening will allow the Sikuliaq to work safely in moderate seasonal ice, operating over a longer period than formerly possible in the North Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. The design is based on science mission requirements developed by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System community.

Alpha Helix, now retired

Climate change (reflected by Arctic sea ice decreasing by approximately 9% per decade) and increased human use of the region will influence ocean circulation and ecosystem dynamics, impacting biological productivity, marine mammals and fish stocks.

This technologically advanced platform will allow up to 26 scientists and students, per cruise, to conduct multi-disciplinary studies on these complex issues, and facilitate broadband real-time virtual participation of classroom students in expeditions, including remotely operated underwater vehicles.

Research Opportunities

  • Arctic Ocean influences on oceanic and atmospheric circulation: Decadal variations in sea ice cover have profound effects on climate, global warming and global ocean circulation.
  • High productivity of Alaskan continental shelves: Effects of these processes on ecosystems and fisheries are not well understood.
  • Marine geological studies: Arctic oceanic sediments can reveal the history of paleoclimates. Better understanding of sub-sea volcanic activity and natural seismicity can predict potentially devastating tsunamis and other hazards.
  • Increasing anthropogenic contaminants: Great potential for adverse environmental effects.
  • Native subsistence users: Diversity and abundance of marine biota, including fish stocks, marine mammals and bird populations, will be critical to their traditional way of life.

Science Capabilities

  • Modern suite of science winches suitable for 10,000m of cable including: deep-sea traction winch; CTD winch; and hydro winch.
  • Flexible over-side handling equipment, including articulated stern A-frame.
  • Full suite of modern deck cranes on Aft deck.
  • Covered and heated equipment staging and deployment area (Baltic Room) featuring hydro-boom (Load Handling System).
  • Accommodation for three ISO standard 20 foot science vans.
  • Dynamic positioning capability.
  • Two multi-beam sonars (Kongsberg midwater EM302 and shallow water EM710), which are protected by ice-capable acoustic windows.
  • Acoustic Doppler current profilers, 75 kHz and 150 kHz. The Sikuliaq will be delivered with a transducer well that can accommodate a 38 kHz ADCP.
  • Jumbo piston coring capability.
  • Undulating towed vehicle (Triaxus) deployment capability.
  • MOCNESS multiple net towing system.
  • Precision vessel motion sensors.
  • Ethernet based, fiber-optic Local Area Science Network (LAN).
  • Modern vessel control system.

Planning efforts for an Alpha Helix replacement have been on-going for many years. The current design effort began in 2001 under the auspices of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Design Committee.