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May 27, 2009

NSF announces funding for Alaska Region Research Vessel

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Fairbanks, Alaska—The National Science Foundation has announced that the Alaska Region Research Vessel will be the first major project funded from NSF's portion of the nation's economic stimulus funds, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The research vessel is a 242-foot, ice-capable vessel to support scientific research in high-latitude waters. The vessel will be owned by NSF and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks on behalf of the entire ocean sciences community, through the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System. Bids for shipyard construction are due this September. The vessel is expected to be ready for use in 2014.

"Ocean scientists have been seeking a high-latitude research vessel for over 30 years," said Denis Wiesenburg, dean of the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. "We are delighted that the increased emphasis now being placed on science by the new administration has allowed funding of this research platform as part of the economic stimulus funding. UAF has a welder-ready project that will benefit both the economy and the ocean science community."

As the first vessel in the U.S. academic research fleet capable of breaking ice up to 2.5 feet thick, the new ship will open up the ice-choked waters of the Alaska region to scientists from all over the world.

In addition to its ice-breaking capabilities, the ARRV will allow researchers to collect sediment samples directly from the seafloor, host remotely operated vehicles and use a suite of flexible winches to raise and lower testing equipment throughout the water column. The ship will also be able to transmit real-time information directly to classrooms all over the world. The ARRV will accommodate 26 scientists and students at a time, including those with disabilities.

With its ability to penetrate the polar and sub-polar regions, the ARRV will allow scientists and graduate students to study global issues, such as sea-level rise and climate change and the effects of both on the coastal and arctic ecosystems. The vessel will be designed to serve scientists in different disciplines, such as those in fisheries, geology, marine biology, meteorology and oceanography.

Research in this region is particularly important because of the high productivity of Alaska's continental shelves and the livelihood of thousands of Alaskans directly connected with the health of Alaska's fisheries.

"The ARRV will greatly expand the nation's capability to understand the nature of climate change at high latitudes and how the marine environment and its important fisheries resources are affected," said Buck Sharpton, vice chancellor for research at UAF.

According to UAF's proposal, the ship will be headquartered out of the Seward Marine Center. The vessel's size will require a new, all-weather dock and additional support facilities at the marine center.

The Alaska Region Research Vessel was designed in 2004 by The Glosten Associates, a group of marine architects located in Seattle. It was developed as a replacement for the R/V Alpha Helix, a 133-foot research vessel that was built in 1966 and retired and sold in 2007.

The UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences conducts world-class marine and fisheries research, education and outreach across Alaska, the Arctic and Antarctic. Sixty faculty scientists and 150 students are engaged in building knowledge about Alaska and the world's coastal and marine ecosystems. SFOS is headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and serves the state from facilities located in Seward, Juneau, Anchorage and Kodiak.

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