Scripps to Operate New Navy-Funded Ship

Few shipyards have the means to build vessels as complex as the AGOR, and orders can be backlogged for years at a time. Between three and five years of planning, designing and engineering go into the construction of a research vessel, SIO Associate Director Dr. Bruce Applegate said.  

“It’s much more complex than a grain ship or a RORO,” he said, referring to the massive cargo ships used to transport cars, trucks and trains.

Research vessels are also expensive. The Navy is fully funding the construction of AGOR; they have provided $88 million up front, and will make additional payments as needed as construction progresses. AGOR 24, better known at Scripps as the R/V Roger Revelle, cost $60 million when it was constructed in 1993. Applegate estimates it would have cost well over $250 million to build today.

Dakota Creek Industries is designing the AGOR 28, along with the research equipment in it, largely from scratch. AGOR’s original design is a main factor contributing to the expense. The high cost of original design is the status quo for ships like AGOR; for example, GPS was used in research vessels for decades before it became cheap enough for civilians to use. In unfamiliar waters, it was a necessity. 

“All you’ve got out there is blue all around you,” Applegate said. “There are no signposts in the sea.”   

AGOR 28 will be fitted with advanced computer networks and data distribution systems, so that virtually any data collection hardware can be fitted to the ship’s mainframe. This means that researchers from a variety of disciplines can modify AGOR to suit their purposes. 

“Whatever it is, you just plug it in, and you’re up and running,” Applegate said. “What sets us apart from other institutions is that we don’t aim for one kind of science. We do it all: geological, biological, chemical, climate change — you name it, and our ships are capable of handling it.”

UCSD students interested in conducting research with the Scripps fleet can write research proposals through the UC Shipfunds program. Because the fleet is large and adaptable, Applegate said, UCSD students can conduct specialized research offshore. 

Though a trip on the Roger Revelle can cost more than $40,000, the Shipfunds program covers full costs for students. Applegate said that he is excited by AGOR 28’s potential to expand Shipfunds. 

 “We’re trying to cultivate the next generation of stewards of the sea,” he said. “These are the ones who will save the environment.”

Students can apply to Shipfunds by emailing a 15-page research proposal to [email protected]. More information can be found on the Scripps website.