The Operator for the Second Ship is…

University of Rhode Island has announced that it has been selected by the NSF to operate the second RCRV.  Congratulations to them and welcome to the team!  We’re looking forward to working closely with URI to ensure that we deliver them a ship suited to the work they’ll be doing in the Atlantic and that part of the world. The rendering currently shows it as blue. Will it be blue? Or white? Or blue and white? That’s up to them. We’ll see.

I should point out that OSU has actually been working with URI (and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) since the mid-70’s operating the Oceanus class.  Though the same class and nearly identical at delivery, the ships diverged significantly over the years. Oceanus added a deck.  Wecoma got a bit longer.  And Endeavor added a deck AND got longer. But they continued to share a common propellor and drive shaft.  The institutions took turns providing maintenance for these and sort of passed around the good one.  When Wecoma was retired in 2012, the drive shaft and propellor was removed and added to the spare parts pool mostly obviating the need to ship parts around after that.

To date, we have worked closely with URI to help develop our Datapresence concept.  They have been pioneers in the use “Telepresence” at sea, collaborating with Dr. Bob Ballard of Titanic finding fame  and having success recently in helping with the extraordinary find of the “Black Box” from the ill-fated El Faro. They have also participated in the project’s Science Oversight Committee— a group of scientists from around the country representing different disciplines who have provided a voice for the nation’s science community to ensure that our ships met their needs.

What about the operator for vessel 3? I actually don’t know… so don’t ask me.  But all things in good time….  First, Congress needs to pass a budget for FY19. That budget needs to contain funding for NSF to award to OSU to start the contract option for the third ship.  After those ducks are in a row (or was that just one duck?), NSF will most likely be confident enough to make an announcement for a 3rd ship operator.  They apparently received plenty of proposals to support that route (though again, I was not part of that process whatsoever).   It should be noted that NSF has said in the past that a 3rd ship would most likely be operated out of the Gulf Coast. Just sayin…

But for now, congratulations again to URI!  We’re looking forward to building you a great ship!

Thanks again for reading.  Feel free to subscribe using the link above. Until next time… stay cool this summer.  Especially you OSU guys down in Houma!

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Likely a little bit longer now…

If you’ve been following my posts or this project at all, you’ve probably heard me refer to our principal technical risk: that being weight, center of gravity, and volume related issues.  I’ve explained how we’re required to carry much of the same equipment as larger vessels such as all the computing resources for our multi-beam SONARS, the deployable centerboard, and capable over-the-side handling equipment. You’ve probably heard me mention that we have the same requirements as other Coast Guard “inspected” vessels such as the need for a hospital, bridge and the engine room compartment size.  We also have several new requirements that other research vessels have not dealt with before such as the EPA’s Tier IV emissions standards and ballast water treatment.  All told, it’s been a lot of STUFF to cram into a regional class vessel in a way that can actually be constructed and maintained.

As we’ve moved through the DVT process, our friends over at Genoa Design International have been busy putting the design into a very detailed computer model, called Ship Constructor (C) . They’ve included all the piping, HVAC conduit, electrical wireways, and all the individual pieces of auxiliary machinery needed to keep the ship moving. They’ve added the Caterpillar C-32 engines and all associated controls.  They’ve put in the winches and tensioners from Rapp/Triplex. And they’ve been able to do so using the information furnished from the vendors themselves (called VFI, vendor furnished information).  This VFI is critical to getting things to fit correctly.  During conceptual and preliminary design, we take our best guess at how large and how heavy things will be. We ask potential vendors to provide what they can, but because we’re not sure who or what vendor will actually be selected by the shipyard (during our open procurement process) and because the vendor is not actually getting paid to supply this information, it’s not alway all that accurate and actually is often rather optimistically small and light. That’s why we add a good bit of margin to all the estimates we use during early stages of design.  Nonetheless, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot… we have to take an educated guess, but ultimately what the vendor provides when on contract can’t always be accurately predicted.

All this to say that we’re currently exploring a change to the design that adds six feet of length so that we can get everything to fit.

Let me explain briefly what I mean by “fit”. We actually look at the vessels’ end of life condition when making weight and volume decisions.  Specifically, we look at a kind of worst case scenario:  the ship is 30 years old, has grown fat in its old age with years of accumulated equipment, it’s covered with ice, and one compartment is flooded– can it survive? Even if the vessel is fine at delivery, if it won’t be fine in this scenario, that’s not good enough.

People sometimes look at ship’s length as THE marker of its size and class.  When viewed through this lens, the addition of a few feet could change everything, somehow.  The reality is, an additional six feet only makes the ship safer and easier to maintain. It will improve the quality of life for all on board through better arrangements.  It won’t increase operational costs nor add additional capabilities. As we’re still in the “paper phase” of the project, the cost of the change is manageable as there’s no steel work to undo or redo.  And the scope of what we’re looking at adds no additional water-tight compartment requirements nor moves us into a higher inspection class.  In short, it’s the right thing to do.

We’d have preferred not to lengthen, but after weighing all the options this is the best way forward.  The change isn’t finalized yet, but we’re heading that way.

Thanks, as aways, for tuning in.  Feel free to subscribe using the link above if you haven’t already.


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Second RCRV has the Green Light

I’m happy to announce that last Friday OSU executed the first contract option with Gulf Island Shipyard to procure a second RCRV.  NSF made an award to OSU last week that allowed us to move forward with the second ship.  We’re all excited to make this happen!  NSF hasn’t announced exactly where the ship will be going or who will operate it, but they’re getting closer to making that determination.

Whoever it will be, OSU is standing by to work closely with them to make a few decisions that will be necessary to customize the ship to its operating region.  Though the RCRV class will be very consistent in terms of machinery, over the side equipment, navigation systems, etc., the vessels will have a few (what we call) “regional differences” and these will need to be finalized relatively quickly. For example, and perhaps most obviously, the (to be selected) operating institution (OI) will need to choose a color scheme for their vessel. I suppose they might like OSU’s choice of Orange and Black with an angry beaver on the bow, but if not, they’ll have an opportunity to customize their own scheme. Though NSF will retain ownership of all RCRVs, they grant the operators a certain discretion when it comes to appearance (as long as NSF’s logo remains prominent!).

The image we created for the second ship has a dark blue that is very similar to that used by many current UNOLS operators from WHOI to SCRIPPS to University of Alaska and many more.  We’re also going to get input on the galley layout, as kitchen layout seems to be a very personal preference.  Internal color schemes will be chosen as well. On the science side, the OI will need to let us know if they think that a shallow water or mid ocean depth multi beam would be preferred (for ocean mapping).   After delivery, the OIs will layout and outfit the labs, the mess, and the staterooms according to their tastes and requirements.

In terms of delivery of the second vessel, one point remains firm. It will not be delivered to OSU by GIS any sooner than six months after delivery of the first ship.  We actually wrote that into the contract in order to ensure that OSU’s shipyard staff had enough capacity to work the delivery trials fully for each ship.  We’ve got a pretty limited staff and we just can’t handle two ships going through trials at the same time. We also think this approach will allow us to apply the focus needed to properly transition the vessels after delivery.

In order to incorporate these “regional differences” and other changes learned from the detailed design process of the first ship, another round of Design Verification and Transfer (DVT) is scheduled solely for the second ship. It will be much shorter in duration, but time is needed to ensure that the second ship’s detailed plan is accurate before we launch into construction.

Ok. That’s it for now.  We’ve got two ships to build!  As always, feel free to subscribe to this blog using the link above. Thanks for reading.  /d

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Guest Blogger: Co-PI Clare Reimers and the NSF Large Facility Workshop


This past week, NSF hosted its annual “Large Facilities Workshop”.  Several RCRV team members were on hand, including my CO-PI, Dr. Clare Reimers.  Here is her report:


May 4, Blog Post by Clare Reimers, RCRV Project Scientist

This week I represented the RCRV Project at the National Science Foundation’s Large Facility Workshop that was held in Alexandria VA.  This annual workshop is organized to share knowledge to promote good practices and address common challenges amongst NSF’s Large Facilities community.  The members of this community come from a portfolio of “Big Science” facilities ranging from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) managed by CALTECH whose developers received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, to the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) managed by Batelle, the Ocean Observing Initiative, and many more. RCRV is one of four major facilities in the construction phase and the newest project in this category.  A project still in the design phase is AIMS, the “Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science” project that is planned for modernization of McMurdo Station.

What I took away from the workshop is that it demonstrates NSF’s intent to maintain healthy collaborative relationships between the agency, its advisors, and the institutions/organizations it supports whose personnel are managing Large Facilities for innovative and challenging scientific research.  Although it was difficult to get very “excited” about talks addressing awardee audits and how to demonstrate fulfillment of core competencies in project management, I did appreciate the spirit of NSF providing information about the sources of new requirements and how to meet to them.  Lessons learned ranged from how the dish radio telescope facility in Puerto Rico, “Arecibo Observatory’ successfully implemented it emergency response plan during hurricane Maria, to approaches LIGO is using for nailing down costs estimates for operations. It is clear the large budgets needed for Large Facilities to address the questions at the forefront of science get extra scrutiny from the Office of the Inspector General, the National Science Board and Congress, as they should.  Therefore, the Large Facilities workshop provided inspiration for project personnel to be at the top of their game to deliver on science missions and stay on time, scope and budget during construction phases.

One session I especially liked was given by a former Navy Seal, Larry Yatch, who is now in the business of instructing groups in how to create highly functioning teams through effective project management.  He gave many pearls of wisdom based on his years of strategic combat planning and leadership, but the pearl that shown for me was the reminder that for teams to be highly effective, everyone needs to know their roles and feel enabled to make the right choices.  He also advised that we all are “lead-followers” with roles that can switch back and forth.  I’ll be heading out to sea next week on the R/V Oceanus as a chief scientist and will be keeping this in mind.  I will also be paying more attention to everyone’s roles on Team RCRV and working to add clarity to “the desired end state”.  So – thank you NSF and Larry for these reminders. It feels good to work within a collaborative support structure that truly believes in the importance of the science enterprise.


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It’s the little things.

I read an interesting piece recently that referred to my “long silent” blog that I took as a good reminder of my goal to do my best to keep people informed about the progress of the construction of the RCRVs. Note the lack of parenthesis around the “s” there that I normally use when referring to our project scope. I’m happy to note that for FY19, Congress has appropriated NSF “$105 million for the continued design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels (RCRV).”  That doesn’t actually guarantee “three” RCRVs but at least two look to be in the cards.  So it seems like NSF’s solicitation for operators for the second and third vessels will continue.  Proposals are due, by the way, on 19 April. So if you’re interested, you better get busy proposing! I’ll be at the UNOLS Research Vessel Operators Committee meeting next week where I’ll be presenting the status of the RCRV build to the academic research vessel operators (including prospective RCRV #2 & #3 operators) from around the nation.

Since my last post, we’ve had another Quarterly Meeting and I’m happy to say that it was very productive. We had good discussions and it was time well spent. That’s not to say the project is without challenges, however; there’s always something to deal with.  But the good news is that OSU and GIS continue to work very well together in solving those challenges.  As I read that, I can see that sounds a little “fluffy” or a little like some non-speak that a politician might use. But it’s true.  Working with GIS has been great so far. We’ve had a bit of a slow ramp with some of the engineering drawings as part of the DVT process, but that seems to be behind us. The main technical challenge remains what’s always been our biggest challenge: getting everything to fit!  There’s a lot that goes into a “capable, modern research ship,” even a regional class size.  In fact, it’s the smaller regional class envelop itself that makes it so hard.  And it’s the little things that add up to get ya.  All wires and cables. The pipes. The HVAC system.  All that STUFF takes up room. For example, one trade off we’ve had to make is to reduce the size of our potable water tanks by a few percent so we could pass cables from the engine spaces to the bow thrusters.

It seems like there’s often some unfortunate comprise to make during this phase.  For example, it also looks like we might lose our Anchor Pockets that did a nice job securing the anchors while giving the ship nice tight lines. But we needed the internal volume. As it turns out, the space that’s causing the biggest challenge is the Auxiliary Machine Room.  That space, unfortunately, is where our Anti-Roll tank is located.  And I can tell the engineers are eyeing the volume it’s taking up so they can fit in other required machinery.  But when compromises start to cut in to core capabilities of the ship, other alternatives need to be explored.

Changes.  We’ve had 5 official contract changes so far, nothing significant. Two, in fact, were credits as we simplified the existing design. We’ve got 5 more in the pipeline and about 5 more beyond that we’re contemplating. All changes have passed through the project’s rigorous configuration control process.  Here’s a few of the pending changes: enlarging the chain locker (part of the anchor pocket loss I mentioned), enlarged our portable winch at the request of the science community, re-arranged the winch room to make it more accessible. That’s the idea.  Just tweaks far. But necessary, and they will improve the ships and make them easier to operate and maintain.  The DVT process was intended to make just these sort of fixes.

That’s it for now.  I’ll try not to wait so long before the next entry. Oh, I should add one last piece.  It looks like we should start cutting steel this summer.  Speaking of steel (and aluminum), that topic might make an interesting post for next time…

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QMRs: The elephant in the room.

Sorry for a bit of hiatus.  I’ll try to catch up on a few major issues this week.  First off, we held our first “Quarterly Management Review” last week down at the Shipyard.  These are meetings hosted by GIS wherein they provide OSU and NSF leadership the status on major issues.  I’ve attended quite a few of these types of reviews over the years and I’ve seen that these kinds of meetings can rapidly veer into the realm of “dog and pony show.”   Too often, people are afraid to honestly discuss issues when there is a large audience. It’s natural. Few want to air dirty laundry or look bad in front of an audience– and there’s a tendency to want to “take it off line” where people feel safer to discuss problems more honestly.

I understand this, but for the most part, I don’t follow this approach personally.  These meetings are expensive in both dollars and time. In fact the Dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences was in attendance as were managers from NSF and other parts of OSU.  My thought is this. If we’re not going talk about anything real, why bother going to these?  We can find out status in weekly reports! Right?

So the challenge is to create an environment or, rather, a culture that is open and honest in a public setting where anyone can speak up. You all have been there. Sitting in the back row, knowing something, but staying quiet.  Or sensing something is amiss, but not asking the question.  I’ve been there for sure.  There are different reasons for this and one can be the sense that someone is too junior or otherwise whose voice shouldn’t be heard.  I remember studying this in “Bridge Resource Management” (a course for sea-going deck officers) where we learned about some of the factors that led to a tragic Korea Air Crash.  Basically, it boiled down to “power distance” and that the co-pilots were afraid to question the pilot right up to where the pilot ran the plane into the ground.  Malcom Gladwell dives deep into this issue in his book Outliers, and I encourage you to check it out.  My take away is twofold: when I’m junior and I see a problem, I don’t hesitate to speak up.  When I’m senior, I try to reduce that power distance and encourage OTHERS to speak up. I’d really prefer not to run aground.

We’ve got about 20 more QMR’s ahead of us and maybe six Annual Review where we, OSU, are in the hot seat rather than GIS.  My hope is that these are open and productive. I don’t want them to be easy or comfortable unless we are completely on schedule and on budget and no risks loom.  I’m reminded of a talk I saw at the Workboat Show a couple of years back. A CEO of a large shipyard vigorously told us about how he actually used a big stuffed elephant that he’d bring into meetings in order to remind people to name the elephant in the room. It might seem hokey, but he saw the importance of not tip toeing around problems.

This is a long winded way to say I’m not a fan of the quarterly management review unless it provides a real forum in which to discuss real problems honestly.  The idea of preparing for a big presentation that provides information that we already know and where everyone tip toes around the big issues is, simply, a waste of time. Don’t agree? Drop a comment below.

After all this, you might think that our first QMR was nothing but slides, furtive glances, and people avoiding hard truths.  It really wasn’t.  But we can do better. Honestly.


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The Sound of Silence: Cutting through the Noise

Modern research ships are typically some of the most quiet vessels on the water. They tend to be quieter on deck and in living areas (airborne noise), and quieter in the water (underwater radiated noise).  In fact, many U.S. research ships have their noise signatures assessed at the same facilities that monitor U.S. Navy vessels. However, the topic of noise, particularly when it comes to research ships, is far from straightforward.  Simply asking how quiet a ship should be would likely garner six answers from five scientist. Engineers and managers would likely add even more confusion to the mix.

Gulf Island and the OSU team met with our Noise Consultants (J&A for Gulf Island, and NCE for OSU), along with key subcontractors (HVAC and Propulsion) for a noise kickoff meeting last week.  It was a productive meeting, and a vital first step in getting everyone on the same page for noise and vibration control. I’m pleased to note that we’ve got the nation’s top noise engineering firms working on our project!

This post gets a bit technical and is long. This fact itself shows how nuanced this issue can be.  There are no short answers when you really start getting into the whys and wherefores of noise control on ships.  There will be some out there who will love this post and may even find issue with it. That’s great.  But for the rest try to hang there, it’s actually kind of interesting. Here goes.

From what I’ve seen, the reasons research ships are designed to be quiet fall into three main categories:

  1. Underwater radiated noise interferes with science equipment (like sonars or depth finders) and can mask or distort data.
  2. Sea critters don’t like underwater noise.  So a quiet ship is better for them. A corollary of this reason also relates to the first: you get more of an observer effect from a noisy vessel.
  3. A quiet ship with little airborne noise is a more pleasant ship for people. To a point. I’ve heard that several new ships (no names to protect the innocent) are so quiet that they are kind of creepy. You can hear every squeak and groan the ship makes not to mention people talking in the passageways.

When it comes to noise control in ship construction, the following adage holds true: decibels = dollars. The more quiet we make a ship and the more closely the shipyard is held to specific tolerances, the more it’s going to cost. Is it worth it?

Thus, the tricky part is to establish noise criteria that are at the same time meaningful and achievable.

Here’s how we developed the RCRV noise criteria: 

As with all of our requirements, preliminary noise criteria came from NSF. Here’s what OSU was given:

“This [Sikuliaq] curve will be used in the Design Refresh. Any information gained from Sikuliaq URN tests will be incorporated to the extent available.”

Unfortunately, RCRV was well into its design refresh by the time Sikuliaq completed their noise trials at the US Navy Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility in Ketchikan, AK in February, 2015.

But, what was the “Sikuliaq Curve” and why was it chosen in the first place?

The term “curve” refers to established noise levels across a frequency spectrum (that is measured in a rather technical way not worth getting into here). A ship’s measured noise curve must fall below the required curve after it is built.

By 1995, there was mounting evidence that noise levels from ships were having an impact on fish behavior and on the subsequent assessment of fisheries in the ocean. In addition to the effects on fish behavior, it was noted that excessive noise at higher frequencies affected the accuracy of acoustical surveys for bottom mapping and so on.  To address these concerns, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) published a report (Report #209, referred to herein as ICES 209) specifying a radiated noise curve to be used as the benchmark for vessels undertaking fisheries investigations.  The ICES 209 curve is shown below as the red chevron shaped curve.

Until recently, this has been the only published benchmark for vessel underwater radiated noise (URN). (And frankly, in this project manager’s opinion, it was somewhat random and lacked relevance to RCRV.)

As mentioned earlier, the ICES 209 is a standard meant to be applied to vessels undertaking fisheries investigations as their primary mission and has been the benchmark used for NOAA fisheries vessels and fisheries vessels in other countries.  One notable feature of the ICES 209 criteria is that the allowable noise level at low frequencies (below 1000 Hz) is very low.  This is in the region of fish hearing, and vessel noise in this region affects fish behavior and avoidance – with measurable impact on fisheries surveys, though not always with the impact you might expect.

It should be noted that all NOAA Fisheries research vessels have shafted propulsion rather than Z-drive propulsion in part to meet the ICES requirements at frequencies below 1000 Hz. More on this tidbit later.

Those that went before us: SIKULIAQ

The Sikuliaq target URN curve began with the ICES 209 URN requirements.  Since Sikuliaq was to be constructed with Z-drives instead of shafted propulsion, it was recognized that the vessel would never be able to meet the ICES criteria below about 300 Hz due to the inherent noise of both the upper and lower gearboxes of the Z-drives, especially considering that the lower gearbox is in the water.

Based on noise modeling results (i.e computer-informed guesses), and the best information available from the Z-drive manufacturer, the curve was relaxed below 300 Hz, with the resulting curve shown in the preceding figure.  And based on the information at the time, it was anticipated that gear mesh noise would be concentrated in the “notch” region between about 50 and 300 Hz ( you can see the “notch” on the left side of the green curve in the preceding figure. It’s actually more of a bump than a notch, but whatever).Above about 300 Hz, the Sikuliaq curve follows the traditional ICES 209 curve.

The Sikuliaq URN goal curve was finalized at her final design review in October 2008. The intent behind all this “curve engineering”, and this is important,  was to provide the ship builder with an aspirational goal that was thought to be achievable and based on the best available standard that existed at the time (ICES). We can’t ask shipbuilders to provide what’s not possible.

Meanwhile, after Sikuliaq had its final review in 2008, in January 2010, Det Norske Veritas (DNV, the Norwegian Classification Society comparable to the U.S. based American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)) issued new rules governing a new set of ship classifications based on their radiated noise signature.  This was (and is) the first attempt made by a Classification Society to fix limits for underwater noise radiated from commercial ships.  The SILENT Classes were specified for four types of operations:

  • Acoustic (A),
  • Seismic (S),
  • Fishery (F) and
  • Research (R), as well as a separate Environmental (E) Class for vessels wishing to demonstrate an extremely low noise emission.

The curves for the mentioned categories report maximum allowable noise levels. In the case of the Acoustic, Fishery, and Environmental categories two different curves are given depending on the operational conditions of the ship (i.e what the ship is doing at the time). See the next figure.

To make matters even more complicated, not all of these DNV classifications have criteria across the entire acoustic spectrum.  For example, SILENT-A (Acoustic) only applies above 1000 Hz, and SILENT-S (Seismic) applies only below about 300 Hz—the frequencies around which the notations are operationally relevant. If we use the DNV curves, what do we do with the gaps?

There is precedent to research ships adopting the DNV and not ICES 209 criteria. The fantastic new Australian research vessel R/V Investigator was built to DNV SILENT-R standards.  Investigator has conventional shafted propulsion. One of Investigator’s principal missions is fisheries research.


Summary of DNV SILENT Class noise criteria.

Figure courtesy of Per Nieuwejaar, Norwegian Institute of Marine Research


Delving deeper into the design implications on noise, the Project Team evaluated the main propulsion motor mounting on Sikuliaq for its noise and vibration reduction, and longer-term maintenance and related upkeep. Much of the under water radiated noise from a ship comes from the main motors and generators. Isolotating them from the ship hull of the ship helps minimize noise leaking into the water.  The main motors on Sikuliaq are isolated by “rafts” on very soft mounts, and experience large motions due to both ship motion and shaft torque.  This more complicated mounting arrangement was expensive and difficult to align during construction.  Reports from Sikuliaq from 2+ years of operation indicate that these larger motions have had other effects, including misalignment due to “settling” of motor raft mounts, and coupling and bearing wear due to the motions of the rafted motors.  The motors have good noise and vibration characteristics, but this has come with the trade off of higher longer-term cost for maintenance of mounts and shortened bearing and coupling life.

Here are the results from the Sikuliaq tests and others that helped inform the RCRV noise curve criteria. You’ll note the Green curve was Sikuliaq’s goal (and thus, to start, the goal of the RCRVs) and the other curves are what was actually measured. Note that reality does not match what was planned; the “notch” is mostly in the wrong place.

In the preceding figure, it should be noted that R/V Revelle is a Z-drive equipped ship with hard-mounted propulsion motors – there is no vibration isolation of any kind.  Nonetheless, in the region above 1000 Hz, Revelle meets the ICES 209 criteria.  This implies that RCRV will be acoustically quiet in this region and even more so with isolation.

To that end, it is OSU’s intention to have the main propulsion motors on RCRV mounted to Distributed Isolation Material (DIM) pads beneath the motors, rather than have the motors rafted as on Sikuliaq.  DIM-mounted motors will have a slightly higher effect on radiated noise above 1000 Hz.  The expectation is that, even with DIM mounts, the overall signature will still be acceptable.

URN Criteria for RCRV

Given that RCRV is mandated to have Z-drive propulsion, it is unreasonable to use the unmodified ICES curve for noise emission.  Furthermore, the results from Sikuliaq and Revelle indicate that the major noise sources below 1000 Hz are the Z-drives themselves.  The unmodified Sikuliaq noise curve is also not suitable, since, as it turns out, the “notch” region in the Sikuliaq curve misses the primary noise modes of both the Sikuliaq and Revelle drives.

So where does off all this leave us? After considering all of the criteria outlined above – ICES 209, Sikuliaq, OCRV and DNV SILENT Classes– we have sought noise criteria for RCRV which are still scientifically meaningful while still being achievable, affordable, and traceable to a standardized URN requirement. And all that is then evaluated against the ship’s mission requirements.

Now, what are the RCRV science drivers that dictate how quiet the ship should be at various frequencies?

Noise Criteria Drivers: What are the requirements? 

Per the approved RCRV system requirements document, the vessels will be outfitted with a complex and highly capable suite of acoustical equipment, from biomass sonars (EK80) to multibeams (EM302 and EM2040), ADCPs (75kHz and 300 kHz), echosounders (scientific and navigational) and subbottom profiler (TOPAS).  In order to make the most effective use of these systems for scientific research, the ship must be quiet in the hydro-acoustic region above 1000 Hz.  This is a critical requirement.

A secondary, but important ship’s mission is the use of seismic techniques for geological and geophysical applications.  Prospective users have repeatedly expressed their interest in using portable seismic systems for coring site surveys, geophysical investigations, and Ocean Bottom Seismometer surveys.  This is an important (but not critical) requirement.  Reducing allowable noise levels at very low frequencies will enhance the vessel’s capabilities for seismic direct-source and reflection work.

It should be noted that no requirement exists to conduct Fishery Surveys.

All that to say:

Combining the desire for an objective, achievable, affordable, traceable standard with the mission requirements of the vessel, the RCRV Team has settled on the use of the DNV SILENT Class criteria, as modified below 100 Hz.  Those criteria which are achievable and fit best with the mission of the vessel are SILENT-A (Acoustics) and SILENT-S (Seismics).  In the region between these criteria, a linear extrapolation will be used.

In response to concerns expressed about higher allowable noise levels below 100 Hz, the RCRV team re-evaluated the new Navy research vessels (OCRV) criteria in this region.  Our conclusion is that the allowable radiated noise levels at 63 Hz and below can be reduced to the OCRV levels without compromising our goal of affordable, achievable and appropriate noise criteria.  This modified curve is shown below.

The established RCRV noise curve is blue. Its “notch” is shifted to match what we think is achievable while still meeting the ship’s mission requirements.


There it is. The RCRV Project Team intends to proceed with DNV SILENT-AS class (modified below 100 Hz) as the URN limits for our ships.   In the gap between the various criteria we’re using, a linear interpolation or extrapolation will be applied.

To summarize, this is what we expect:

  1. The vessel will have a noise signature significantly lower then SILENT-S at frequencies below 100 Hz, as demonstrated by the Sikuliaq, Sharp and Revelle
  2. The vessel will perform at or below SILENT-A (light survey condition), and can be expected to be below ICES 209 limits above 1000 Hz, as demonstrated by Sikuliaq and Revelle
  3. The vessel will rarely be in the SILENT-A (thruster) condition, as this applies to the noise signature with both main propulsion and bow thruster(s) operating. However, we recognize that this is a possibility, and the ship will be tested in this condition.

Special thanks to our Marine Science Technical Director, Marc Willis who did all the research, made the graphs, and wrote most of this post.

Also special thanks to anyone who actually made it this far in reading all of it! Comments or questions on noise as related to research vessels or RCRV in particular? Drop them in the comments below.

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Overside Handling Systems

Gulf Island finalized its contract with its Overside Handling System Single Source Vendor this week.  Rapp Marine will be providing us with our stern A-Frame, portable side frame, Launch and Recovery System (LARS), main crane, traction winch, hydro-winch, and what is now a portable winch. Also provided will be the tension members (i.e. ropes, wires, and lines), the integrated controls, and the chest packs to control all this gear. If you watch our little promotional video, we have a notional sketch of a number of these things.

Here’s an artist’s rendition of the LARS with a CTD dangling from it, on an enviable calm day.  We’ll see how close Rapp’s version comes to this guess.

Suffice it to say, this is an extremely important contract as this gear goes a long way to making our ship a “research ship” and not just an offshore supply vessel.  Rapp has a lot of recent experience providing these types of systems to research ships around the world including R/V Sikuliaq (NSF’s most recent ship) and R/V Reuben Lasker (NOAA’s most recent ship).

There is a lot behind the overside handling systems that you might not think about. In fact UNOLS has an entire appendix to its Research Vessel Safety Standards (known colloquially only as “App A”) dedicated just to how to safely use and maintain wire rope.  Many other overside handling system considerations will challenge Rapp and our engineers even insofar as the ship’s ability to stay upright is concerned. I suspect I’ll try to delve into detail on some of these challenges in a future post, or if we’re lucky, we’ll have guest post by someone who knows a lot more about it than I do.

In addition to traditional wire rope, RCRV will be able to accommodate a range of synthetic lines.  This will actually be a relatively new capability for a research ship in the United States. Although research ships around the world, and in Europe in particular, have used synthetic lines for years, the U.S. research fleet has been slow to adopt.   Rapp has had much experience in delivering systems with this capability so I know we’re in good hands.

There are a number of advantages to using synthetic lines rather than traditional wire rope, chief among them is strength to weight. Synthetic lines are basically neutrally buoyant whereas wire rope can weigh thousands of kilograms when in the water and deployed out thousands of meters. This can be a really big deal to scientists, particularly when grabbing sediment cores.

So Gulf Island is getting pretty close to having its team together. Only two more SSV’s to announce, the Integrated Bridge System (everything we need to drive and navigate the ships) and the Integrated Acoustic System (what we need to map the ocean floor). Hopefully we’ll be able to announce those soon.  In the meantime, thanks for checking in. If you have any questions about our Overside Handling System plan, feel free to drop a comment / question below.

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Never to early to start planning.

A quick entry on a couple of topics this week, just to keep in the habit of trying my best to keep people informed of progress.

So, let’s see. One topic that came up a couple of times this week, interestingly enough, has to do with plans for what to do with the ship AFTER it’s delivered to OSU by Gulf Island. Some might say that we’re getting ahead of ourselves with such talk, but I say it’s never too early to start planning.

After delivery, the project for vessel 1 will shift from Phase III (Construction) into Phase IV (Transition to Operations). Phase IV is scheduled to actually begin 6 months prior to delivery through 12 months after delivery at which point the ship should receive her “UNOLS Designation” which is what I like to think of as the equivalent of a diploma certifying that she’s ready to conduct real ocean science missions.

Experience has shown that ships are not like new cars. You can’t just drive one off the lot and expect it to work perfectly.  There will be problems. There will likely be some big problems. These won’t necessarily be a reflection of poor work by the shipyard or its subcontractors; it’s just the way it is. So that first year is scheduled far in advance in order to create a plan that will stress the ship in every way possible so that we can unearth as many of these problems as we can before the ship is responsible to reliably support taxpayer funded science.  What we want to avoid is a scenario, for example, where a science team needs to recover a series of Ocean Bottom Seismometers whose batteries are set to expire only to discover that our new ship’s main thruster’s seals don’t fit correctly and need to be removed and new seals placed in. Three weeks down time.  At that point, with the batteries on the expensive sensors nearing their end, another ship would need to be diverted to save the day, setting up a chain reaction of dispossessed and disappointed science parties.

There will be more on this topic later, but it’s not too early to sort it all out. And it feeds directly into the decision that needs to be made regarding when to take OSU’s current ship, Oceanus, off line.

Also this week, the project was presented with an updated conceptual model for the next generation of coring device that will deploy from the RCRV class vessels. The new design should add a good amount of safety, reliability, and automation to the challenging operation of taking sediment cores in a seaway.

We have also nearly finalized a Request for Proposals that OSU will be issuing soon for “Inspector Services.”  We will be contracting with a firm to supply a number of contractors to work at our shipyard office to support OSU’s construction oversight. This is a very important role, and we’re looking forward to eventually seeing the proposals from bidders.

And finally, the OSU team at the shipyard has moved into its new offices.  They look very nice.  Let’s hope this latest tropical storm decides that it’s not interested in heading towards Louisiana and our new offices!

Thanks as always for reading. Feel free to subscribe using the link above and to leave comments and / or questions below.

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“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

The title of this post is from a quote by physicist Stephen Hawking. Though I doubt he was referring to ship building, it’s as true for us as it is anywhere. How we adapt to and manage change to our design will, as much as anything, be a measuring stick by which the success of the project will be measured. A recent study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Co. found that large construction projects go over budget by an average of 80%.  That’s a staggering number to me. It’s most likely a combination of two main factors.  First, poor (overly optimistic) planning; and second, insufficient change controls.

What is a change control? If you’ve ever remodeled a house you know what I mean.  You’ve come up with a plan and as you get into it you think something along the lines of “Boy, it sure be nice if we…”  or someone says “Hey, I’ve got a good idea. What if we…”  phrases like those mean that your plan could be in for a change.  You’re going to do something different–and in the construction world, different typically means dollars.

The RCRV project, as I’ve mentioned, is overseen by the National Science Foundation’s Large Facilities Office and funded through its “Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction” line. As a result, we are in a “no cost overrun” environment. That means, if we’ve planned poorly or if we manage change with inadequate vigor and costs rise, we’re out of luck. There will be no cost overruns.

That’s largely why we spent as long as we did planning and budgeting and then planning some more and then re-budgeting.  Part of our planning process involved evaluating risks to the project. The team spent a lot of time asking the “what if” questions and thinking of things that could go wrong in order to create a list of known unknowns. We then looked to mitigate these risks how best we could.  One such risk that we identified was “requirements changes.”  The intent of that was to be prepared to respond when the requirements that led to our baseline design changed.

Keep in mind that there requirements and then there are “REQUIREMENTS.”  Things like “the vessel shall be able to accommodate 16 scientists” or “the vessel shall have azimuthing drives” are the latter. These types of requirements drive the entire design. Changing from Azimuthing drives to conventional shafts or designing the ship to accommodate 20 scientists would be very significant scope, schedule, and cost changes. But the former, the lower case requirements, are spelled out throughout the contract specifications.  Sometimes these need to change a bit because a safety hazard was revealed, the original specification was inefficient or just plain wrong, or maybe Gulf Island had a different way of constructing something then we originally thought possible. But no matter how noble the reason, a change is a change and changes cost money.  Changes made early in the process cost less than those made later, and that, in a nutshell, defines why we are going through this process of “Design Verification and Transfer.”

All this to say….drumroll….we’ve had our first official change. It’s true. It’s a lower case requirements change in what to most people would be a rather mundane and overlooked system. I won’t spell out every change we make, but I’ll summarize this one for a sense of scale:  A ship’s chiller provides for, among other things, air conditioning. Our original chiller had only one source of power. If that source failed, the entire vessel could lose air conditioning. The change we’ve made was to provide the ability to manually switch the chiller to another source of power if need be.  This change should cost less than $5,000 per vessel and we have likely saved some future sea going Chief Engineer a lot of headaches.

So there it is. We will continue to monitor change requests very closely both during the DVT process, and, more so, during construction. But we’ll always remember our first one…

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