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Investigator of the ocean arrives

By , 12 September 2014

Research vessel Investigator

The research vessel Investigator.
Image: CSIRO

Australia’s new Marine National Facility research vessel, Investigator, arrived on Tuesday to its home port of Hobart. The ship will soon take scientists and high-tech equipment to the watery parts of the world; to measure the weather, take samples from the sea floor and study marine life.

The ocean is a vast area to explore, and a lot about ocean life and geology is still a mystery. So what better place to have a science laboratory than out in the salt spray and rolling waves? The Investigator can carry 60 people and supplies for two months at sea. Oceanographers, marine scientists and geoscientists will be able to use the vessel to answer all sorts of questions.

To help scientists improve weather forecasting, Investigator has a heavy hat. “The weather radar on top of the mast weighs as much as a Toyota Corolla, and must be kept level as the ship pitches and rolls,” says CSIRO’s Brian Griffiths, part of the team that helped to design the ship. The device can record the height of clouds and tell if they are carrying rain, hail or snow.

The ship can also capture history by taking core samples – extracting mud and sand from the seabed using a long steel tube. “It’s like sucking up a milkshake through a straw and putting your finger over the top to keep it in,” explains Brian.

Within this muddy material is a record of the climate from about the last 800 000 years. “We can examine different species of diatoms [algae] and learn how ocean circulation patterns have reacted to changing climates like ice ages,” says Brian. “It’s similar to looking at [growth] rings in trees.”

After years of designing and building Investigator, it has now arrived in Tasmania and is getting ready for research.

Below is an animation of the weather radar on Investigator. You can also watch animations about how the ship is measuring our oceans, and the sensors towed behind the ship.

More information

Explore the research vessel Investigator blog.
Make your own paper model of the research vessel Investigator, as seen in Scientriffic magazine.
Find out how heavy ships stay afloat from AUSMEPA.

Share with us

If you could be a scientist on the Investigator, what would you study? Would you search the sea for shipwrecks, or study the types of plankton that produce light?

This article first appeared in Science by Email. Get your weekly dose of science by subscribing here.

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