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January 2011 Issue


Naval Oceanography in 2010


By RAdm. Dave Titley
Oceanographer of the Navy
Director, Task Force Climate Change
U.S. Navy

The year 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of one of the signal accomplishments of human exploration of our planet—the dive of the U.S. Navy-owned bathyscaph Trieste to the deepest spot yet identified on Earth, the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench. Trieste descended almost seven miles down, the only time in history that humans have ventured to such depths.

That’s not to say that explorers have not been there since. The Japanese remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Kaiko ventured there in 1995, followed in 2009 by the Nereus, a hybrid ROV built and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), NOAA and the National Science Foundation.

Unmanned Vehicle Operations
Unmanned vehicles are a safe and cost-effective way to explore the hydrosphere, and the Navy continues to be a leader in this area. Over the last decade, the Naval Oceanographic Office’s battery-driven autonomous unmanned vehicles (AUVs) have logged more than 25,000 nautical miles with more than 7,000 hours of operational employment. In addition to these AUVs for ocean-bottom mapping, naval oceanography is investing in glider vehicles to serve as a highly persistent sensing net for ocean dynamics. Our Glider Operation Center has been operating around the clock since 2007, covering more than 44,000 nautical miles and completing more than 76,000 hours of operations. Due to these successes, programs to procure additional gliders and AUVs for naval oceanography are in place.

AUVs were also used this year to participate in a new search for the remains of Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones’ one-time flagship, the Bonhomme Richard, off of Flamborough Head, England. Led by the Ocean Technology Foundation with the assistance of the Navy, U.K. Hydrographic Office and French navy, the search was hosted by the Navy survey vessel USNS Henson (T-AGS 63) using a Naval Oceanographic Office Hydroid (Pocasset, Massachusetts) REMUS 600 equipped with side-scan and multibeam sonar. This AUV performed initial scans that located potential objects for further investigation. A second REMUS 600 from the ONR, equipped with an ultrasensitive laser scalar gradiometer, side-scan sonar and electro-optical imager, then revisited and identified these various objects.

To better deploy and retrieve our expanding fleet of unmanned vehicles for operations like this one, the Navy has included an 18-foot-square inboard moon pool on our next-generation T-AGS oceanographic survey vessel, allowing access to the water through the ship’s hull. The new T-AGS 66 ship, USNS Maury, will be 24 feet longer than other Pathfinder-class ships, providing 12 additional berthing accommodations. The ship, which is under contract with VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Mississippi, began construction in September and is expected to be delivered to the Navy in spring 2013.

Climate Prediction and the Arctic
Understanding and predicting the tactical and operational environment is critical to Navy mission planning and accomplishment, but it is increasingly apparent that we also need to better understand and predict the changing climate to ensure the Navy is ready and capable to confront future challenges later in the century.

Last May, the service released the U.S. Navy Climate Change Roadmap, a companion document to the U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap released in November 2009. Developed by the Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, the roadmap provides recommendations on policy, strategic planning, investments, communications and partnerships that will ensure the Navy is prepared for any challenges resulting from climate change.

The most apparent effects of global climate change can be observed in the Arctic, where this year’s summer ice extent was the third lowest on record. Assessments from satellite data, submarine sonar measurements and models suggest that 2010 may also have had the greatest diminishment yet in ice volume.

While it is unclear the impact climate change will have on future Navy mission requirements, it is certain that we must be prepared to operate in the fifth ocean.

In May, the Navy released U.S. Navy Strategic Objectives for the Arctic. It identifies five major objectives for the Navy in the Arctic region: ensure the Arctic remains a safe, stable and secure region; safeguard U.S. maritime interests; protect the nation, our critical infrastructure and key resources; foster cooperative partnerships in the region; and ensure naval forces are capable and ready to meet any future mission requirements.

Identifying strategic objectives helps define missions. The next step is to determine what capabilities we will need and balance that against the capabilities we have. This year the Navy commenced a comprehensive capabilities-based assessment that will identify and prioritize the shortfalls in Navy Arctic capabilities and assess the effectiveness of potential solutions.

The Navy is also increasing operational training in the polar regions, as well as strengthening our partnerships with other Arctic nations. Both of those goals came into play last August when U.S. Navy assets joined U.S. Coast Guard and Danish participants in Canada’s annual Arctic military exercise Operation Natsiq. Exercises of this nature will provide invaluable knowledge for future Arctic operations and essential experience for naval personnel.

Partnerships will also be necessary to achieve a better understanding of the nature of climate change and to develop a more reliable timeline that can be used by strategists and planners. The goal is to expand our predictive capabilities from short-term operational timelines to strategic decadal timelines. A more reliable timeline of climate change will allow us to more accurately assess future force and infrastructure requirements and will inform investment decisions.

To forecast something as complex and dynamic as the global climate, our nation will need a completely updated environmental sensing, data assimilation and processing strategy; the computational power of our greatest supercomputers; and the intellectual partnership of our greatest minds. Discussions have begun with multiple federal offices and academic institutions that have environmental modeling assets to determine a way ahead in this critical enterprise.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recently established the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainability to promote coordination and collaboration between government departments and agencies. This executive office committee will be instrumental in the development of a global system predictive capability.

The accomplishment of the bathyscaphe Trieste a half a century ago was the result of Navy partnerships with the technology industry. Understanding the Earth’s complex climate will be an even greater challenge. Our success will ultimately depend on our partnerships with the science community and the capabilities of our technology partners.



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