Ocean Lab instrumentation aboard Royale Carribean Explorer of the Seas

Reusable suborbital vehicles may revolutionize scientific research with frequent access to space. The potential partnership between commercial industry and space science is similar to a partnership which has benefitted ocean science for the past several years.

When the Royal Carribean cruise ship Explorer of the Seas launched in 2000 with a fully equipped, professionally staffed science lab onboard.

Ocean Lab is run by the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. It was initially funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Royal Carribean also contributed a reported $3.5 million to install sensors, cables, and laboratory space.

The perceived scientific benefit of cruise ships was not frequent access to space but frequent access to the sea. According to an article that appeared in The Porthole, a publication of the World Ship Society’s Port of New York Branch:

Because of the high cost and limited availability of ocean research vessels, it is not practical to make observations of any particular part of the ocean on a frequent and regular basis. The most that can be hoped for are occasional snapshots, sometimes months or years apart, with extrapolations made about what happened in between. A cruise ship such as Explorer of the Seas runs on a regular itinerary, visiting the same waters week after week. As Dr. Brown [Dean of the Rosenstiel School] notes, “[This allows the scientists to do] very repetitive sampling.”

By 2007, over 300 scientists had sailed on the Explorer of the Seas, during which time they launched more than 800 weather balloons and took 1,200 water samples. Research during this period resulted in more thsn 100 scientific papers. While the ship was at sea, instrumentation took atmospheric measurements which are sent via satellite to the National Weather Service every hour.

The Ocean Lab also provided a unique opportunity for public education. In the first six years, over 80,000 passengers toured the laboratory.

The visiting scientist and public-outreach program was unfortunately discontinued in 2008, but collection of atmospheric and oceanographic data continues on the Explorer of the Seas and additional Royal Caribbean vessels.

Data collected by the Ocean Lab program has been placed in the public domain. It is made available to researchers, students, and the public through an online portal.

Some of these practices may become models for future suborbital science programs.

Written by Astro1 on February 26th, 2013 , Citizen Science (General)

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