Alaska-Fairbanks Gets New Arctic Research Vessel

Jun 12, 2014

The R/V Sikuliaq launching from Wisconson.
Credit University of Alaska-Fairbanks

A state-of the art research vessel is now being operated by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.  KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh has more.

The National Science Foundation has just completed a 30 year project to create a new type of polar research vessel.  Following its construction in Wisconson, the ship Sikuliaq has just been signed over to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.  Michael Castellini, UAF’s Dean of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, says it’s the end of a very involved process.

"It came to a point this last Friday when we actually signed the papers for the vessel to leave the shipyard and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to take over as the operator.  It's been a long run, very exciting, and lots of people waiting for it for a long time."

One of the chief capabilities of the Sikuliaq is the ability to break through ice sheets up to two and a half feet thick.  Castellini says this puts the ship into a very specific research role.

"There's only a few ships left in the United States research fleet that are Global Class, that can operate in all the world's oceans.  There's only a handful of those, and this is the first vessel the National Science Foundation has funded in 15 years, I believe.  That makes it unique from that side.  It makes it unique from the side that it's the only one of all the Global ships that can work in either polar region, and obviously, since it's the newest one, it's the most up to date."

NSF will administer much of the Sikulaq’s polar and arctic research, but that work won’t begin in earnest until mid-2015.  In the meantime, Castellini says UAF already has several planned uses for the ship.

"We've got people that are putting in proposals right now to work in questions facing ocean acidification, working in and around  around the Bearing Straits trying to understand the issues, what's going on there, and then depending on when and where the ice is in any given year, work on the marginal ice zone, in that area where it's almost totally frozen, but very very  heavy pack.  So we have quite a range of people that are lining up to do everything from geology to biology and everything in between."

The Sikuliaq will be based in Seward, but will be at sea for most of the year, operated by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.  The possession of a global-class vessel puts UAF in a class only shared by Scripps and Woods Hole, two Oceanographic institutes located in La Jolla (pronounced la-hoya) and Cape Cod respectively.