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Scripps Plumbs Ocean Mysteries In 6-Year Voyage Of Discovery

TV photographers capture the return to San Diego Bay of the research vessel "Roger Revelle," which had been at sea for six years.
Tom Fudge
TV photographers capture the return to San Diego Bay of the research vessel "Roger Revelle," which had been at sea for six years.
Roger Revelle Returns
Scripps Plumbs Ocean Mysteries In 6-Year Voyage Of Discovery
GUESTS:Bruce Applegate, Associate Director, Scripps Institution of OceanographyRosa Leon Zayas, Chief Scientist, Tonga Trench Expedition

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Coming up, the voyages and the scientific mentions missions of Scripps research vessel Robert Roger Revelle. It's 12:23 and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Than this is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh, San Diego is welcoming back a special ship from a particularly long time away from the port. The research vessel Roger Ravelle is back from six years of research spanning from South Africa to Australia. International dozens of separate research missions. Joining me to explain what kind of research and why the ship is so important to scientists are mine guests precipitate is a director of sprints strips institution of oceanography who does the operations and bring technical support. Bruce, welcome to the show. BRUCE APPLEGATE: Hi Maureen, thanks. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Rosa Leon Zayas was aboard research vessel Robert Ravelle, Rosa, welcome to the show, welcome back. ROSA LEON ZAYAS: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bruce you gave a brief overview of the places and research missions the ship has conducted over the last six years can you give us a bit more detail whereas the ship gone? BRUCE APPLEGATE: Well, where hasn't it gone, almost. The ship is in San Diego for efficiency sake we just happen to be here because the science has brought us here and that is where Revelle goes, Roger of those sales around the world to go where the science is and we had no idea that we would be gone so long. We work about a year in advance we do all the planning year in advance for where the ship is going to go and we go year by year. He just turned out that for this particular expedition most of the work was in the tropical western Pacific and Indian Ocean. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I read that there were 86 research expeditions carried aboard the Roger Revelle during the six years, give us the scope of what kind of experiments scientists were conduction. BRUCE APPLEGATE: Our ships are rhetorical general-purpose research vessels. These are vessels that are really equipped that is really everything from looking at the deepest oceans as Rosa will talk about in a little bit, but also looking the water, so what is in the water in terms of the biology and ecosystems, looking at the surface and the ocean and interface with the atmosphere to looking up in the atmosphere for climate studies. So really, the ship is also part of a broad range of research that happens around the world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What makes this research vessel so special?With the kind of equipment that it has said that scientists are able to conduct research on the vessel that they would just be able to sort of rent a boat and go out in the middle of the ocean and try to conduct the same research? BRUCE APPLEGATE: These really are very specialized vessels. To be able to conduct all the research I just described you have capacity to bring scientists on board, they bring all kinds of crazy instruments that they want to plug in and have work and it is a real art to plug and play in a way that scales upward to the scope of the science missions. We may be mobilizing a Suba and it involves shipping containers and scientists may have just a couple of days to put all the gear on board so all the ships are designed to accept scientists quickly if you've only got two days to make a laboratory on the ship you can do that so it takes a great deal of forethought and planning to design a vessel that can do that. But in addition to that we carry an enormous assortment of instruments on our ship so we pack on everything from special seafloor mapping devices to instruments that measure that meteorology and measure the water and so the ships are just packed with ways to observe the ocean. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you used the term Suba what is that? BRUCE APPLEGATE: Suva Fiji, no. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wasn't familiar with my Fiji, sorry. When do you adapt the top expedition aboard the Revelle, Rosa? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: At the end of August 30 six to 6 December. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was the mission of the project? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: Explored the microbial oceanography of the one of the deepest parts of the Tonga trench about 9 km, so we are looking for understand the molecular composition, diversity and potential metabolic properties of the community down in the deep. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And if you could expand a little bit more generally for us, why is it important for us to know about the deep-sea environment in this way? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: Well we know so little about the deep ocean, and they compress about more than 75% of our planet, and some more people have been to outer space than to the bottom of the ocean and it's really important for us to understand what is really happening and what the molecular community is doing in the deep ocean because they recycle and fueled the whole system from the bottom. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you conduct research like this on a research vessel like the Roger Revelle you must take a lot of data off the ship and go back and study it is that the way it works? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: That's reflected in symbols in our case we work with microorganisms so we don't have a lot of capabilities really analyzing of the samples on ship, although the Revelle is a great space to work and because they don't they have the capability of keeping the symbols called and we can bring the equipment to pressurizer once we have the samples and bring them back to San Diego then all the sorting and analyzing the data starts. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, during this rather short length of time you were on the Roger Revelle collecting this stuff how long is it going to take you to really do the analysis? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: That is a fantastic question. We started sorting through the samples as soon as we got back but it might take years to complete all, wrapping up the data and publicizing it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So in addition to the really impressive number of scientific missions and the vast array of places that the ship has gone it's going to be feeding scientific research for years. BRUCE APPLEGATE: It is the gift that keeps on giving, yeah. You know (inaudible) like Rosa is, there is usually a host of scientists that go on board and you may have some that are interested in the microbes that they collect at the bottom of the same time the metaphysical oceanographers and other geologists on board. So we are very multidisciplinary out there, so in addition to the enormous data set that Rosa just described there are similar data sets collected out there by other people that seem at the same time. We will put 37 scientists how to see on Revelle and they are just as busy as Rosa is out there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It seems Windows looking at the information that I got about the journeys of the Ravelle and it seemed that a number of the experiments had to do with climate change at least in one aspect or another. That is especially fitting tribute to Revelle, isn't it? BRUCE APPLEGATE: It is really Roger Revelle had the idea of greenhouse gases and what the consequences, the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might be so it is fitting that some of the work we are doing aboard the ship is turned to understand the physical processes that are contributing to things like global climate and we did a really interesting Chris just last month where some researchers from Scripps, Dr. Kent Millville and Dr. Luke Linney were flying unmanned aircraft off the vessel and those aircraft were looking at the properties involved in the mixing between the atmosphere and upper part of the ocean to try to understand how gases get into the ocean and how aerosols get out, so the interplay of material across the interface, and we need something that understands to better understand things like ocean acidification. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Rosa, you could give us an idea of what it is like reading a experiment on the Pacific. I've seen some pictures taken of the Revelle on missions, our leaders can see, the website at It seems a fast and incredibly beautiful environment, did you find it to be ROSA LEON ZAYAS: It is incredible. It's peaceful to be up there. I'm a PhD student I haven't got my degree and it's my favorite thing I want to be and conducting science on such an amazing vessel it is really amazing, makes everything so much simpler I've been out on expeditions where we've had a little boat that we charter and we get out there and do what we can, but in addition this opportunity that Bruce gave us, it was really much much simpler to do science there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you share anything; to stick in your memory perhaps, perhaps a sunset, a storm? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: I think first of all just a chance to be out there is incredible. I don't have big grants, I'm not API, but we were able to get out there thanks to the foundation of funds grad students to get out there and do research. So first of all I am eternally grateful for that, and the sunsets are beautiful and the finished that you see over the boats are really crazy, but I think excuse me, what's going to stick to me the most is doing the gravity core, the samples that we got, the technique that basically sends a plastic tube down to in our case 9 km and when you see the tube, the plastic tube filled with sediments and it comes back to board and you see that there is all this samples and you just like successfully completed this mission that you've been planning for months and months it is something I will never forget. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you have be be found something that no one has found before? ROSA LEON ZAYAS: Most certainly. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the most exciting part ROSA LEON ZAYAS: It's exciting to know every time somebody goes to the bottom of the ocean they find something new and we already know there are samples there and organisms that nobody has ever seen before. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now the Roger Revelle is back at home port in San Diego. His going to get some maintenance and some new equipment. I read about a new robot arm the vessel is going to get, tell us about that. BRUCE APPLEGATE: This is a special of reporting system. One of the things we do ownerships like Rosa just described are sort of Stone Age simple in terms of dropping something to the bottom of the ocean and then bringing it back. It sounds so simple but in practice it is so difficult to do. Our robot arm is it is been called is really a sophisticated articulating crane that we will attach to the ship and this is something that no other research vessel has yet and no one else has attempted to put something like this on a ship yet, just because it is pretty sophisticated. There is motion compensation on it so you can take into account the pitch and roll of the ship so what it allows you to do is take big heavy packages, some of the instruments weighing many thousands of pounds and 20 pitching and rolling ship that might be a monstrous waves in the Southern Ocean, you can pick up this heavy package and very securely move it off the ship and gently put it into the water and started down into the water column to do its work, to make its measurements. So, no one else has had a system like this installed on their ship so this is something we've been working on for about a year and have to design and build. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now in a couple years a new class of research vessel will join the Scripps research fleet. I don't know if I'm saying it correctly the agor 28, what will that be able to do? BRUCE APPLEGATE: We are very proud to be selected by the office of Naval research to operate the next generation of research vessel. Agor 28, we call it Agor 20 because it doesn't have an official name that is forthcoming pretty soon so the designation of the class of ship is agor, and it's a 28 one. Select be very similar to Roger Revelle which is also owned by the office of Naval research that Scripps operates on behalf of the Navy. The agor 28 T going to include an awful lot of the instruments that are on Revelle. It is smaller so it doesn't take too it is many people to see we hope it's more cost-effective to operate because of the efficiencies and cost efficiency is really important to us going forward and getting the most scions bank for the buck. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When does the Revelle go out again? BRUCE APPLEGATE: Once we just installed the or boarding system to articulating arm, how we go in March and we are headed back across the Pacific and are going to begin in and Mrs. program in the Western Pacific starting in Vietnam. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay and will be gone for six years again? BRUCE APPLEGATE: You never know. I hope we are that lucky. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you very much I've been speaking with perceptive associate director of Scripps institution of oceanography and scientist Rosa Leon Zayas thank you very much for coming and explaining all this to us. BRUCE APPLEGATE: You are welcome ROSA LEON ZAYAS: You are welcome

A ship that’s named for the former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography pulled into port last week, after six years of hosting scientific research. The Roger Revelle is operated by Scripps.


The institution's associate director Bruce Applegate said the ship is long overdue for a little San Diego shore leave.

“The Revelle will be here for about a month. And we’ve got a significant amount of maintenance here,” he said. “We’ve also got some inspections to do.”

The blue and white ship pulled up to a dock on Point Loma that is home to Scripps Institution’s four research vessels. The Revelle was most recently in Tahiti. But six years of travel brought it to points all around the globe, including Tonga, Japan, Samoa and South Africa.

Applegate said maintaining and operating Scripps’ research vessels costs $30 million a year. But that cost is partly born by other academic institutions who also use the ships to do their research.

Applegate said while about 30 percent of research on the Roger Revelle is done by Scripps faculty, a visit to different ports often means welcoming new scientific passengers.


“We’ll have their scientists meet us on board, so we don’t end up driving all over the planet, wasting gas and not getting productive science done,” said Applegate.

One of the scientists who has used the ship in the past year is Ken Melville, an oceanographer at Scripps. He went to sea to measure the way atmospheric heat and wind can cause damaging ocean storms.

Melville mentioned the storm Sandy, which just devastated parts of America’s eastern seaboard.

“By better understanding how the wind forces the ocean, we’ll be able to provide better predictions for weather, of climate, and in particular for these catastrophic events,” he said.

Roger Revelle is best known for his pioneering work into understanding global warming. Revelle was director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography from 1951 to 1964.

The ship that’s named after him is operated by Scripps, but owned by the U.S. Navy.

Corrected: June 7, 2023 at 12:26 PM PDT
KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Peggy Pico and Patty Lane contributed to this segment.