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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What Will Our Scientific Cyberinfrastructure Look Like In The Next 40 Years?


This week’s entry is from Chris Romsos, the project’s Datapresence guru. Can you tell he just came out of a technical workshop?

Thanks for tuning in.  //Demian


Did you know?  “United States federal research funders use the term cyberinfrastructure to describe research environments that support advanced data acquisition, data storage, data management, data integration, data mining, data visualization and other computing and information processing services distributed over the Internet beyond the scope of a single institution. In scientific usage, cyberinfrastructure is a technological and sociological solution to the problem of efficiently connecting laboratories, data, computers, and people with the goal of enabling derivation of novel scientific theories and knowledge”[1].

The Wikipedia definition above encapsulates well the components and goals of what we call the “datapresence” capabilities for the RCRV.  More on datapresence details in a future post I promise, but for now a working definition:

da•ta•pres•ence, /’dadә,prezәns/, noun – A suite of technologies, processes, and workflows employed for the remote transmission of facts and statistics. Datapresence facilitates remote participation in distant events and promotes increased operational and analytical efficiencies.

Friday Fun Fact: It turns out that Al Gore, while not directly coining the term Cyberinfrastructure (nor inventing the internet), may have paved the way for it with his use of the term National Information Infrastructure.

This week Demian and I travelled to Alexandria, Virginia and attended the 2017 NSF Large Facilities Cyberinfrastructure Workshop for the purpose of providing our input to the question posed in the title of this post.  The workshop was the second such event hosted by the NSF in an effort to foster synergies among NSF Large Facilities and broader Cyberinfrastructure (CI) communities.  As you might imagine, enabling synergistic activities between existing and developing facilities with diverse needs, objectives, and cultures is a knotty problem given the technological complexities of CI and the operational scale of Large Facilities.  My co-worker Jasmine and I attended the foundational NSF Large Facilities CI meeting in December of 2015 and I can report that while recommendations and actions remain outstanding, meeting participants are working hard toward a common understanding of requirements, architectures, best practices, enabling technologies, operational practices, and gaps.

What can we expect in the near-term?  Hopefully, more coordination and open sharing of CI architecture and best practices among the facilities will be the most likely immediate outcome.  There is clearly a desire to stay engaged on the problem and continue the dialog, both informally through mailing lists & social networks and formally through workshop findings and recommendations.  Some of the more difficult issues facing our scientific CI, such as developing and maintaining a skilled workforce in the face of stiff competition from private industry, will take longer to affect.

As the Datapresence Systems Engineer for the RCRV project one of my primary duties is to make sure that we plan, build, and deliver vessels equipped with the CI that can enable the synergistic interactions with other Large Facilities envisioned above.  We do this by reviewing the CI in place at other facilities with a critical eye, listening to the needs of our future users and, being receptive to the lessons learned of those that came before us.  When I get back to Corvallis my first stop will most likely be to debrief with our CEOAS Research Computing Manager, Chuck Sears.  Chuck has been at the helm of CEOAS Research Computing for roughly 30 years, has a deep understanding of CI across academic and industry domains, and has been an invaluable resource to the RCRV program.

The CI meeting just about caps off a “Cyber” themed month for the RCRV datapresence team.  Three weeks ago, I attended a Cybersecurity workshop hosted by the Center For Trustworthy Cyberinfrastructure.  I’m now at 40,000 feet somewhere over western Virginia en route to our Project Field Office at the shipyard in Houma, LA to build out their office computer network.  I can tell the team is eager to occupy their new office space and I’ll do everything I can over the next four days to make sure they can turn on, tune in, and not drop out (cyber wise) when they get the move in green light from the yard.

As I mentioned, I’ll dive into the details of what makes up our datapresence idea for the RCRVs in a future post.  What we have planned is actually pretty exciting.

Thanks for reading this week.

– Chris Romsos

  1. Cyberinfrastructure. (2017, August 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:56, September 8, 2017, from
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Force Majeure


Just a quick entry this week. I wanted to pass along that our team in Houma avoided the worst that Harvey had to offer, fortunately.  However, Gulf Island and Gibbs and Cox’s corporate headquarters are in Houston and so it’s been tough for them this week.  Our best wishes to all those who are suffering throughout the region.

I’ve had a couple of questions about what we would do if a hurricane actually did hit the shipyard. Well, through our regular risk planning sessions, we did identify this as a risk that would manifest itself as a project delay in the most likely scenario. In the worst case, the shipyard would be destroyed or the vessel(s) itself (themselves) could receive intense damage.  We have contingencies as well as specific contract language for Force Majeure scenarios such as this, but suffice it to say, we’d all be in a spot of bother sorting it all out.

This reminds me of a presentation I saw several years back by our Chilean colleagues.  It was late February, 2010, literally hours before their brand new and much loved new Research Vessel Cabo de Hornos was to be launched when tragedy struck.  A deadly 8.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the country. Among the damage, Cabo de Hornos was knocked from her blocks setting back the program tremendously.  Fortunately, they’ve since recovered well but it’s certainly a cautionary tale of what could happen.

I’m also pleased to report that the Gulf Island has finalized the first of its Single Source Vendor (SSV) contracts:  they’ve signed Siemens to integrate the RCRVs propulsion systems. We’re excited to be one of the early adopters of their very efficient BlueDrive PlusC system, which we will dive into in a future post.

Next week, I’ll be joined by our Datapresence Systems Engineer, Chris Romsos, for quick trip to NSF’s new Headquarters in Alexandria VA for a Cyber-Infrastructure workshop.  One of the most exciting features of the RCRVs is the cyber-infrastrure we’re developing that will be able to expand the participation of a cruise globally– not just through video, but operationally as well. I think I’ll see if Chris might serve as our first Guest Writer next week and provide more detail…

Ok. That’s it.  Enjoy the long weekend and last bit of summer.

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Who owns the ship’s design?

The expressed need for and requirements of the RCRVs go back decades. Like some ancient fossilized bone, early evidence of RCRV pops up in the 1995 UNOLS Fleet Improvement Plan referencing a 1993 workshop on facilities needs. One of the major steps that eventually helped realize the RCRV dream occurred the following millennium when, in 2005, the Navy created a robust “Statement of Requirements” that became the foundation for the first pre-conceptual design request that was issued in 2006.  This process culminated in a competitive selection of a high-level design submitted by Glosten in 2009.  This design was, in turn, reviewed by the science community and was used ultimately in the issuance of NSF’s solicitation to lead the “design refresh” and construction of the RCRVs that OSU subsequently was selected to lead.

This is the 2009 RCRV design by Glosten. It is 155 feet long.

So… here we are in 2017.  OSU and Glosten have “refreshed” that 2009 design based on the 2005 Navy requirements.  OSU has issued this contract ready package to Gulf Island to construct. The purpose of the Design Verification and Transfer Process that we’re in now, as I’ve mentioned before, is to ensure that the detailed final design is copacetic with the shipyard. Gibbs and Cox is helping to develop those plans.  But the “ship’s design” is really a compilation of a number of smaller designs. For example, the ship’s navigational bridge is complex layout of computers, propulsion controls, alarms and monitoring systems, and more. The patents, and trademarks of these subsystems will be owned by the sub-vendor Gulf Island will select for that purpose.  The engine room is also a design of designs.  Many of the systems there will need to be customized to some degree in order to fit into our working envelope and provide the output specific to the requirements of the RCRV. Neither Glosten, nor Gibbs and Cox, nor OSU or the Gulf Island will be designing these sub-systems.  Our propulsion “Single Source Vendor” (see earlier entry) will be doing that.

So who will own the design? These “Intellectual Property” problems as they’re called, can be quite vexing and need to be agreed to contractually with terms amenable to all parties.  Since this project is ultimately funded by the National Science Foundation and managed under what’s called “The Uniform Guidance”, certain requirements exist that basically translate to “the taxpayer will be the owner of what the taxpayer (as represented by the NSF and by proxy OSU) pays to develop”.  So if a sub-system is developed specifically for the RCRV, the requirement is that the Intellectual Property for that system will be owned by OSU and, ultimately, NSF.

As Gulf Island finalizes their contractual agreements with their Sub Contractors, this is one of the issues that they’re working through.  Who will own what. This may not matter so much in the short term, but these vessels are being built to last. If the previous generation of ships they’re replacing is any guide, these could still be sailing in 2070! There’s not a small chance that over the course the ships’ lifetimes that the future operators are going to need to access the underlying code or subsystems that might otherwise be protected by the vendor. But what if the vendor goes out of business?

Lastly, keep our team in your thoughts this weekend! The shipyard is in the 4-day probability cone for the path of Hurricane Harvey.  Even if they don’t see the winds, the rain as already started. Hopefully it doesn’t get too flooded.

Thanks again for reading.  And remember, if you haven’t already, feel free to subscribe using the little tool up on the right.

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A Single Throat to Choke?

As we head into the heart of summer and many people take their vacations, the OSU shipyard staff are settling in at Gulf Island for the long road ahead.  The shipyard, meanwhile, has been busy finalizing a number of important subcontracts with their “Single Source Vendors” or SSVs.

There will be several SSVs that will work for the shipyard and will be the single point for responsibility for such things as Over the Side Handling equipment (all the winches, controls, frames, etc),  the propulsion system, the bridge and navigation control system, and the underwater acoustic systems.  The concept behind the SSV is that there is one company that will be solely responsible for the work that not only they are providing, but their sub contractors as well.

We’ve learned from other projects that simply using a “Single Source Integrator” doesn’t provide the teeth necessary to efficiently resolve conflicts that may arise between different vendors.  For example, think of your house. Imagine you’re installing new drywall and having it painted. But, unfortunately when the project is done the seams in the drywall look terrible.  The drywaller blames the painter for using cheap paint, and the painter blames the drywalled for poor workmanship.  However, if there was a general contractor  who was solely responsible for all the work, it would be his responsibility to find a way to fix the problem.  I heard someone (not from OSU or the shipyard, by the way) at the kickoff meeting use the term “single throat to choke.”  Though that’s a bit extreme, it gets the point across.  It’s just a very clear method to assign responsibility for the most important and risky aspects of our research ship construction.  In a future post, once the contracts are finalized, I’ll announce who the SSVs will be.

Also this week, we met with a subset of our Science Oversight Committee to address a niggling issue that is very important to them. Basically, the issue has to do with our removable second winch on our Winch Deck (also called the O-1 level).  The science community was adamant that the winch we have specified can not support science operations that they envision the RCRVs should be able to perform.  The winch can not go deep enough with 2000m of .322 EM cable. Their strong preference is that it contain 7000m of .322.  Only then, they maintain, can it act as a true backup winch for our CTD operations, and allow science packages to go to required depths along the continental rise and other areas.

Although we’d love to support this, it’s not so simple as just adding a bigger drum with more wire.  Everything, and I mean everything in ship design, is a trade off.  Adding the additional capability will add up to 5000lbs to an area above the vessel’s center of gravity.  This will affect the ship’s stability and the added weight itself will cause problems to the vessel’s trim calculations.  So… we’re going to look at it.  Fingers crossed we can find a viable solution.  Our friends at the Glosten associates will be looking into this in the weeks ahead.

Ok. That’ll do it for this week.  As always, please feel free to drop in a question or a comment (even if you read this post months from now…).  Thanks for reading.

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