The University Record, April 15, 2002

Agreement saves research vessel

By Lee Katterman
Office of the Vice President
for Research

The Laurentian docked in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Research)
Faced with declining usage that threatened to dock the ship, the University’s Great Lakes research vessel, the Laurentian, will continue to sail under an agreement with an Ann Arbor-based federal research laboratory.

The 80-foot Laurentian, built for the University in 1974, has been used extensively over the years by researchers from U-M and other institutions for a broad range of scientific study, as well as by teachers and students from U-M and from schools across Michigan for a variety of educational programs.

In recent years, however, the demand for use of the ship by U-M researchers and others has been declining. “The level of support has not been sufficient to pay for the costs of operating the vessel,” says Fawwaz Ulaby, vice president for research. “At the present time, for example, there are no U-M research proposals requiring ship time heading into the 2002 sailing season.”

According to National Science Foundation guidelines, the current low level of usage would dictate that the ship be laid up, and that researchers be redirected to other vessels operating on the Great Lakes. “However, we do not believe this solution would be in the best interests of either the University or the State of Michigan,” Ulaby says.

Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), a research laboratory operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has agreed to lease the Laurentian for a period of 15 years. During that time, GLERL will assume responsibility for operating and scheduling the ship.

“We have reached an agreement with GLERL that will allow for continued operation of the Laurentian, and the continued use of the ship by researchers, teachers and students,” Ulaby says. “A minimum of 35 sailing days on the ship will be made available to U-M researchers, provided that time is reserved by April 1 each year.” In addition, a certain amount of time will be set aside for educational programs. “It is my hope that the greatly reduced daily rate—$2,500 as compared to $4,500—will make it easier for U-M faculty and researchers to take advantage of this wonderful resource.”

GLERL also operates a research ship, the 66-foot Shenehan. The research needs of GLERL have grown beyond what the Shenehan can support, and consequently, GLERL is interested in expanding its research fleet. “At the same time, staffing and structural differences at GLERL will allow it to operate the Laurentian at a much lower daily cost than the University has been able to do.”

The University has a proud history of Great Lakes environmental research. In 1955, with the purchase of the Naiad, U-M became the first university to own and operate its own research vessel on the Great Lakes.

“Research interests tend to ebb and flow over time, depending upon the focus of funding agencies and the specific projects of our faculty and research scientists,” Ulaby says. “Nonetheless, research into the ecology and health of the Great Lakes continues to be extremely important to our state and region. The advantage of a lease agreement with GLERL is the preservation of the Laurentian so that future research projects may take advantage of this vital research tool.”