R/V Oceanus Remembered as a Workhorse of the U.S. Academic Research Fleet

The long service of the R/V Oceanus (1976-2021) came to end on November 21, 2021 as the ship pulled into port after having successfully completed its last interdisciplinary cruise for Oregon State University (OSU). The Oceanus began its 45-year-run of scientific investigations at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in 1976.  After a major mid-life refit, the ship was transferred to OSU in 2012, and contributed to the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) off both coasts.

“The Oceanus proved to be a real workhorse for the Academic Research Fleet and also played a pivotal role for the OOI during its initial launch,” said Ed Dever, PI of OOI’s Coastal Endurance Array, who sailed on the ship many times. “While at WHOI, The Oceanus performed some of OOI’s at-sea-mooring test deployments and later the ship was used for the initial deployment of the Coastal Endurance Array off the Oregon coast.”

In spring and fall 2014, after moving to OSU, Oceanus performed the initial deployments of the Oregon and Washington inshore moorings and Washington profiler mooring.  The real test for the Oceanus, however, came during 2015, when it was tasked with deploying the full scope of the Endurance Array, including the four large coastal surface moorings at the Oregon and Washington shelf and offshore sites.

Explained Dever, “Thanks to some excellent ship handling, care on the part of the deck crew and a huge assist from some very kind weather, we got the moorings safely in the water using the ship’s crane to deploy the 10,000-pound buoy off the starboard fantail and the heavy lift winch to deploy the 11,000-pound multifunction node (MFN, bottom lander) through the A-frame. The size of the buoys and MFNs meant that Oceanus could only carry one buoy out at a time and the cruise was completed in five legs with some very efficient port stops. By the end of the cruise, it was evident that we would need to move future operations to global and oceans class ships and after one more deployment in fall 2015 (with recoveries carried out on the R/V Thomas G. Thompson), we made that transition.”

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After the initial Endurance Array deployments, OOI transitioned to using larger global and oceans class ships needed to recover the bulky coastal surface moorings, with one exception. In spring 2019, with tight schedules on global class ships, UNOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System charged with ship scheduling) requested that OOI Endurance split the spring mooring recovery and deployment cruise between the R/V Sikuliaq and the R/V Oceanus. The Oceanus ably performed the profiler mooring deployment, anchor recoveries, coastal surface piercing profiler deployments, and glider deployments over five days in April and May 2019.

While not directly working with the OOI, the Oceanus continued to work off Oregon at and around the OOI arrays.  Research and student cruises often sampled over the years near OOI’s  Endurance and RCA Arrays at the Oregon inshore, shelf, offshore and Hydrate Ridge sites to compare shipboard measurements and OOI time series.  This work included CTD profiles, net tows, coring, and sediment trap deployments.

The last Oceanus cruise, in fact, was one such interdisciplinary research cruise led by OSU researcher Clare Reimers, who also served as chief scientist.  During its final official outing, the team aboard the Oceanus sampled the outer shelf at the northern end of Heceta Bank, Oregon to help scientists determine any changes that may have occurred to a swath of the margin that was reopened to commercial bottom trawling in 2020 after an 18-year closure.  Reimers said, “The R/V Oceanus and crew performed flawlessly, and our science mission was fully completed.”

Added Dever, “What better way to end its long and illustrious career?  We at OOI join many others in appreciation of the R/V Oceanus, and the dedication and skills of all who sailed on her and supported ocean science throughout her many years at sea.”

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Special thanks to OOI Data Center Project Manager Craig Risien for sharing the GoPro time lapse of the loading of the Oregon Offshore mooring onto the R/V Oceanus in spring 2015.

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