Troubled waters

I’ve only been to sea twice on research vessels. In 2003, I spent a week aboard the drillship JOIDES Resolution off the coast of Oregon. In July 2013, I went back to the same general area aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, a University of Washington-owned ship.

Both cruises had admirable scientific goals — to explore the hidden depths of the ocean, from flammable methane ice to an underwater volcano on the verge of erupting. Yet both struggle with one of the key problems facing US oceanography: Ship time is expensive. In a pair of stories for Nature, I explore the consequences of tight oceanographic budgets. For now, at least, money to continue the pathbreaking work of the JOIDES Resolution is in doubt. And in part that’s because of demands from a major new ocean observatory that is putting scientific instruments directly into the ocean — in order to reduce the very ship time that’s costing so much.