NEWPORT - For more than 35 years, the Oregon State University research vessel Wecoma has carried scientists out of Newport to sea to learn about fisheries, climate change, undersea earthquakes and volcanoes, tsunamis, marine dead zones and other scientific issues.
The R/V Wecoma made its last official voyage in November, taking a research team off the Northwest coast to map the Cascadia Subduction Zone. And now the venerable vessel is heading into retirement.
In its place, another ship in the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet, the 35-year-old Oceanus, will support scientific research in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oceanus was also scheduled to be retired but will arrive in Newport in February after making the long trek from the East Coast.
This changing of the ships is somewhat unusual, according to Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.
Abbott approached the National Science Foundation about a rapid analysis of the two ships to see which one would be more cost-effective to operate over the next several years. A team of technicians returned the verdict - a strong recommendation for the 177-foot Oceanus.
"During the analysis, we also discovered some problems with the Wecoma's hull, as well as corrosion that would have required costly dry-docking," Abbott pointed out. "The combination of that discovery and the overall report prompted us to send a letter of interest to the NSF to take over the Oceanus and retire Wecoma."
"There are a few differences in science capabilities," Abbott added, "but Oceanus is very capable and will be more cost-effective to operate over the next five to 10 years, at which point we hope to have a new ship."
OSU has operated large research vessels since 1964, and has had the Wecoma since 1975. The fate of the ship is unclear - after its retirement from the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet, OSU and National Science Foundation leaders will review options for disposition.
Oregon State is an active member of UNOLS, a consortium of 60 academic research institutions that operate 16 vessels around the country, according to Demian Bailey, OSU's marine superintendent. Wecoma and Oceanus are owned by the National Science Foundation and support research projects funded primarily by NSF and the U.S. Navy.
Both ships will be docked at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, adjacent to a new facility built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to maintain its Pacific fleet. That fleet supports monitoring and research needs of NOAA.
OSU also operates the 54-foot Elakha and 85-foot Pacific Storm, which are used primarily for near-shore research.
Oceanus will leave Woods Hole in late January, sail through the Panama Canal and arrive in Newport in late February. It will be ready to support the first OSU research cruise in late March.
A retirement celebration for the Wecoma will be held at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in March.