SAN DIEGO — One of the most innovative research platforms used by Scripps Institution of Oceanography officially retired earlier this month after more than six decades in service, the research center announced.
The Floating Instrument Platform, or FLIP, finished its distinguished career on Aug. 3 when it was towed to a dismantling and recycling facility — a move that came about six years after its last research voyage.
Known for its unique capability to “flip” from a horizontal position to a vertical one, FLIP became an unprecedented beacon of innovation in the study of oceanography.
“FLIP has existed for more than half the length of the institution’s entire history,” Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen said in a release. “It was an engineering marvel constructed during an important phase of new technology for ocean exploration following World War II.
“The many discoveries from FLIP help set the stage for ongoing cutting-edge science to understand our ocean,” Leinen added.
The 61-year-old baseball bat-shaped platform has been used to help advance scientific knowledge of ocean currents, ocean acoustics, air-sea interactions, marine mammals and more, Scripps Oceanography officials say.
“FLIP set the stage for thinking big about what could be done with technology to enable new scientific discoveries,” said Scripps’ Marine Physical Laboratory Director Eric Terrill. “It was built in an era of risk-taking; a spirit that we try to embrace to this day and encourage in the next generation of seagoing scientists.”
According to Scripps, the platform was designed, built and operated by the Marine Physical Laboratory in the late 1950s, a lab that formed towards the end of WWII as an offshoot of efforts by the University of California to support the Navy during the war.
The platform had no propulsion system of its own, instead getting to destinations by being towed by seagoing tug boats.
Scientists gave FLIP the ability to maneuver to its vertical position by filling its ballast tanks with water, Scripps officials say, causing all but the top 55 feet of the 355-foot long platform to submerge in the ocean.
As it was underwater, FLIP had a unique capability of remaining almost entirely motionless in even violent swells in the ocean, facilitating the types of research that it became known for.
The stability it had paired with the lack of an engine made it an ideal tool for researchers to record ocean acoustics and animal sounds, as well as observe tidal forces, internal waves and small-scale turbulence.
“It was like being on land except in the middle of the ocean. It was just glorious,” Scripps oceanographer John Hildebrand, who deployed FLIP to research marine mammal sounds, said in the release. “There were things you could do with it that you couldn’t do any other way.”
In its retirement, Scripps officials say one of FLIP’s booms, which are crane-like arms used to suspend instruments, will be removed from it and attached to the La Jolla pier for use in the same way as it was utilized on the platform.
“While FLIP is retiring, it will continue to pay dividends and make new contributions for ONR and the greater scientific community,” said Tom Drake, a researcher in the Office of Naval Research’s Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department.