UC San Diego receives $35 million from state to build research vessel


A sign for UC San Diego as it appeared on Monday, July 19, 2021.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The California Legislature’s recent funding of $35 million to UC San Diego will pay for designing and building a first-of-its-kind large hydrogen-powered research vessel that will be operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, officials said.

The new vessel will serve as a platform for education and research on understanding the California coast and the effects of climate change on the ocean.

The demand for ocean information, education and technology development continues to grow and requires a next-generation research vessel to fulfill the demand, Scripps Oceanography officials said Friday. The new vessel will be dedicated to California research missions and will enable scientists to observe and measure biological, chemical, geological and physical processes associated with a variety of environmental issues.

“Scripps Institution of Oceanography has guided countless UC San Diego students, faculty, and staff through invaluable scientific projects aboard the Robert Gordon Sproul, and conducted groundbreaking research on climate change and the impact of plastics in our oceans,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “After a four-decade run, it is high time Scripps built a new research vessel that can keep up with the high- caliber work they continue to churn out, and help our state navigate the troubled waters of sea level rise and our evolving climate.”

The proposed 125-foot vessel will take three years to design, build and commission. It will replace the Gordon Sproul ship, which has served thousands of UC students in its nearly 40 years of service but is nearing completion of its service life.

The new vessel will continue the university’s educational mission to train the next generation of scientists, leaders, and policymakers, UC San Diego officials said.

Students will take part in a deep-sea biology field course led by biological oceanographer Lisa Levin and graduate student Natalya Gallo.

“With 840 miles of coastline, it is important for California to manage its access to the vast resources of the Pacific Ocean,” UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said. “To do that, we need to better understand our coastal environments, and how climate change is affecting them. That’s where Scripps Institution of Oceanography can help. This new state-of-the-art research vessel will expand our capability to understand and protect our coastline and train UC San Diego undergraduate and graduate students through unparalleled hands-on learning.”

The new vessel will feature a hybrid propulsion system that integrates hydrogen fuel cells alongside a conventional diesel-electric power plant, enabling zero-emission operations, researchers said.

The design is scaled so the ship will be able to operate 75% of its missions entirely using a non-fossil fuel — hydrogen — with only pure water and electricity as reaction products.

For longer missions, extra power will be provided by clean-running diesel generators.

“Our vision is to build an uncompromising, fully capable oceanographic research vessel that can be powered independently from fossil fuels, and be free from the criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions that diesel-powered ships emit,” said Bruce Appelgate, associate director and head of ship operations at Scripps Oceanography. “In doing so, we hope to both serve our scientists and students while being a world leader for transformational change to clean, non-polluting shipboard power systems.”

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