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Despite U.S. Shutdown, Many Marine Researchers Still Afloat

3 October 2013 4:30 pm
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Still sailing. A U.S. government shutdown hasn't idled the Ronald H. Brown, a research vessel operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, although it is now in port in Brazil.

Ahoy! Despite some reports to the contrary, many U.S.-funded research vessels are not returning to port because of the U.S. government shutdown—at least until December.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) caused consternation among some marine scientists on 1 October when it suggested in a press release that government research vessels would have to return to port if the shutdown lasted more than 24 hours. But ship operators tell ScienceInsider that while some vessels have been idled by the lack of government funds, many major ships used by scientists are still under way. 

“None of our ships have been recalled to port,” says Jon Alberts, executive secretary of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), which counts 19 vessels in a fleet heavily used by academic researchers. It includes ships owned by the government but operated by nonprofit partners and university. UNOLS ships are funded on a calendar-year basis and have money to operate through 31 December 2013, Alberts explained.

At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the agency’s primary research vessels, the Ronald H. Brown, will continue operations with a crew of 23, according to an agency shutdown plan. The ship is now in Natal, Brazil. "Requiring this vessel to return to home port runs the risk of damaging the vessel and requiring it to need additional repairs in port to preserve government property," the plan states. Some other NOAA vessels are heading to ports, including the Oscar Dyson, which was supposed to pick up six research buoys in the Gulf of Alaska.

The U.S. Navy’s research ships remain active, according to Tim Schnoor, research facilities director for the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Virginia.

AGU, meanwhile, has clarified its statement, a spokesperson says. It now reads: “[I]f the shutdown lasts longer than 24 hours, government-owned research vessels may have to return to port, wasting significant time and money when they have to be redeployed."

You can see our complete shutdown coverage here.