Launch of UAF’s Research Vessel Sikuliaq to make big splash

Robin Wood/Sun Star Reporter
October 9, 2012

The Research Vessel Sikuliaq will set sail in Wisconsin on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. Photo by Val Ihde courtesy of UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

During the official christening and launch ceremony on Oct. 13, 2012, the Research Vessel Sikuliaq will slide off the dock and into the water at Marinette Marine Corporation, in Marinette, WI.

When fully operational the 261-foot Alaskan High Latitude Research Vessel will be owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by UAF, with its home base at the Seward Marine Center, in Seward, Alaska. Costing approximately $200 million, funding for the Research Vessel Sikuliaq came mostly from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

To commemorate the occasion, second-year graduate student Emerson Eads composed “Song of the Sikuliaq.” Performed by the Fairbanks Symphony, a recording and video of the nearly eight-minute piece, with distinct elements from mezzo-soprano, trumpet and percussion, will be played during the launch ceremony. A “sense of sobriety” is how Eads describes the feeling one might get after hearing the piece from start to finish.

The Sikuliaq, which is an Inupiaq word meaning “young sea ice,” is designed to deal specifically with what its name refers to. While attempting to avoid year-round ice, the vessel should be capable of travel through ice 2’6” thick at a speed of 2 knots.

According to the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System Scientific Mission Requirements, ice capabilities of the R/V Sikuliaq will offer year-round operations south of St. Lawrence Island in the Bearing Sea, three months of the year near Point-Barrow in the Chukchi Sea and during August and September in the Beaufort Sea, North of Alaska and Canada. During expeditions the Sikuliaq, painted sky-blue and white, with navy-blue stripes, will be able to accommodate 24 scientists, providing 15 days of transit and 30 days at working stations.

Scientists should have plenty of space to complete their studies on the R/V Sikuliaq. In conjunction with 2,000 square feet of working deck space, a main lab, wet lab, analytical lab and computer lab should provide ample room for experiments in controlled environments. Complementing the labs and deck space will be cranes, one capable of moving 20,000 pounds to all deck-working areas, winches, trawling nets and ramps. There will also be space for vans, heavy equipment or deployable workboats and 8,000 cubic feet of storage space.

Scientists have long been planning how to spend their time on the Sikuliaq, holding multiple conferences to discuss ideas. According to senior public information officer Cain Stephens, Assistant Professor of Geological Oceanography Sam VanLaningham discussed his desire of taking core samples to study the relationship between sea levels and climate during a May 2011 conference. The conference, held at Marinette Marine Corporation, offered diagrams and detailed information on the vessels capabilities, as well as tours through full-scale mockups of the vessel’s labs and bridge.

It will be awhile before scientists and researchers are at sea, taking samples and crunching numbers. After Saturday’s launch ceremony, construction on the interior must be completed, followed by sets of trials. The due date for delivery is June 2013. Following delivery the Sikuliaq will be subjected to post-delivery training, more trials and inspections. The vessel should begin scientific research as early as January 2014.

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