Slideshow: Sikuliaq stops in Juneau

Juneau residents recently had a opportunity to view the newest research vessel that will be devoted to the study of polar ocean regions. The R/V Sikuliaq stopped in Juneau last week while heading to an official commissioning ceremony at its homeport in Seward.

“We’ve been working on this for over thirty years. Three deans’ worth of people,” says Michael Castellini with laugh. Castellini is the former dean of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. He is now associate dean for the University of Alaska’s entire graduate school and also associate dean at the Center for Arctic Policy Studies. Castellini was one of several university officials and Sikuliaq officers who hosted public tours for the vessel last Tuesday.

The vessel, constructed at the Marinette Marine Corporation shipyard in Wisconsin, was launched in 2012 and completed last year. Castellini says it has already completed two full, deep-water science cruises in the central Pacific Ocean.

“One was looking at the impact of coral mining on the submerged seamounts northwest of the Hawaiian Islands,” Castellini says. “The second project was looking at the geomagnetic patterns on the bottom of the ocean which they use for studies of continental drift and global magnetic patterns. Those two projects were extremely successful.”

The 261-foot vessel was built with $200 million in federal stimulus funds. The National Science Foundation owns the vessel and will reimburse UAF for the estimated $14 million in annual operational costs.

Castellini says the Sikuliaq is the only ice-capable vessel out of over twenty oceanographic research vessels around the world, and the vessel’s name comes from an Inupiaq word meaning ‘first-year sea ice that is safe enough for a man to walk on’. The vessel’s inch-thick steel hull and knife-edge bow can cut through three feet of first-year sea ice, but it’s not considered to be a functioning icebreaker which will typically run up onto the multi-year pack ice, crush it, and then push it aside.

The vessel was designed to focus on polar oceanography and ice studies, but it could be deployed for NSF research anywhere in the world.

After its commissioning March 7th in Seward, the Sikuliaq will undergo ice trials in the Bering Sea and then go into a shipyard for warranty work, a wrap-up of construction and fixing any mechanical and electrical glitches.

Castellini says the vessel is already booked for research through the middle of 2016.

“There are people just writing proposals left and right for it,” Castellini says. “It’s going to be no problem keeping her busy for a long time.”

Bridge officer John Hamill says most of the spaces, including the deck and wet lab, are designed to be configured according to the scientists’ needs. Bolt patterns on the deck, structure, and masts allow a quick installation and removal of research-specific equipment without an overhaul or renovation of the vessel spaces before each cruise.

Chief Mate Bob Anderson says the vessel’s Arctic focus will tie into a lot of theories on climate change.

“We don’t have a lot of historical data on the formation and deformation of the ice floes,” says Anderson.

Chief Mate Bob Anderson says the inch-thick steel hull is one reason why the Sikuliaq is an expensive vessel. The stern is narrower abeam than the bow to allow it to more easily travel through the ice.

The vessel can cruise at 10 knots and cover over 270 miles a day with three thrusters, two at the stern and one in the bow.

The Sikuliaq is operated by 20 crew and can accommodate as many as 25 scientists and their equipment.

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