Alaska’s adjacent waters are a key window to understanding our rapidly changing climate. However, large expanses of these ice-encrusted seas remain unstudied by researchers due to the lack of a research vessel capable of traversing them, motivating the commissioning of a new research vessel. The R/V Sikuliaq is capable of breaking ice up to two and a half feet thick. The name Sikuliaq is an Inupiaq word that means “young sea ice,” and reflects the University of Alaska’s focus on arctic research and its Alaska heritage.
Vital Research in Challenging Alaska Waters
The Gulf of Alaska and the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas are home to millions of wildlife species and are the source of half the worlds annual fish catch. This region demands expanded research efforts due to its unique ecosystem, immense energy resources, and rapidly increasing vessel traffic. As the most ice-capable vessel of its kind, Sikuliaq must serve numerous researchers with vastly different needs. The complex requirements for atmospheric, ecosystem, fishery, and geologic studies call for Sikuliaq to be equipped with a state-of-the-art, versatile platform.
A Versatile, Ice-Capable Research Vessel
Glosten designed the R/V Sikuliaq to accommodate up to 26 scientists and students to conduct a myriad of cross-disciplinary studies in the Alaska region, year-round. Sikuliaq is equipped for broadband, real time virtual participation of classroom students and remote researchers during its expeditions. It will allow scientists to collect seafloor sediment samples, conduct water column and sea floor surveys, utilize a diverse suite of winches to handle scientific equipment, and control remotely operated vehicles to gather additional data, samples, and images during research expeditions. The Sikuliaq design represents extensive participation and input from the scientific community. In developing the initial design package, Glosten engineers worked closely with the steering committee and the National Science Foundation to resolve conflicting requirements into a modern and flexible research ship.
Birth of a Flagship
Marinette Marine Corporation began fabrication of Sikuliaq in January 2010. Sikuliaq was launched in October of 2012 and delivered in June 2014. The vessel is owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) as part of the U.S. academic research fleet. It will be used by scientists in the U.S. and worldwide, with its home port at UAF’s Seward Marine Center in Seward, Alaska. Sikuliaq is the only ship in the national academic fleet rated for year round operations in first-year ice.
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