Research vessels: Underutilized assets for climate observations



Sustained, global observations of the ocean and atmosphere, which are coordinated by the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), include various international and national mooring networks, Argo floats, surface drifters, and measurements from satellites, volunteer observing ships (VOSs),and research vessels (R/Vs).These sustained measurements have to some extent drawn attention away from the role of R/Vs in collecting global observations, yet R/Vs' global coverage and onboard technical support make them uniquely valuable to climate observing no matter what the primary scientific discipline is for any particular cruise.

Remarkably, there is no systematic compilation of global R/V tracks. This article presents documentation of R/V coverage for 1997 using the positions of about 80,000 individual meteorological reports (Figure 1) from 154 oceangoing R/Vs. If 1997 is typical, then each year R/Vs cover almost the entire globe and thus have great value since their missions often take them far from commercial shipping routes. A University of Delaware database ( shows 60 R/Vs capable of working across entire ocean basins (≥50-meter length and 30-day endurance).