Alaska-bound research vessel launches in Wisconsin

Courtesy UA Fairbanks

An Alaska-bound vessel capable of traveling through first-year ice was launched in Marinette, Wis., Oct. 13.

The R/V Sikuliaq will homeport in Seward, likely beginning in January 2014, and can operate in ice year-round. The research vessel will be owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. UAF is expected to take control of the ship next summer.

“It’s a wonderful platform for doing oceanographic and fisheries-related research in the Arctic, in the Bering Sea and in areas we have not been able to go or have only been able to go at really great expense,” said UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. “It certainly will grow UAF, but, more importantly, it will grow the knowledge of the Arctic. That’s what really important about this. It’s not just about us; it’s about the future of arctic science.”

The 261-foot vessel cost nearly $200 million, and was funded largely through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s the first new NSF vessel since 1981, and the first research vessel with ice-breaking capabilities.

According to a statement from UAF, the Sikuliaq was side-launched into the Menomonee River by UAF Professor Emeritus Robert Elsner, a co-sponsor of the vessel. Construction will continue this winter.

The Marinette Marine Corp., in Marinette, Wis., is building the ship. It was designed by Glosten Associates, a Seattle-based firm.

The ship has a reinforced double hull, two rotating thrusters, and scalloped propeller blades, which will allow it to break ice up to 1.5 feet thick. It is also equipped with research technology, including an advanced navigation system, acoustic mapping systems and sensors, and systems for deploying science equipment. The ice-breaking abilities will enable the vessel to support polar and subpolar research in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas for much of the year.

Sikuliaq is an Inupiaq word that means “young sea ice.”

The Oct. 13 launch event included a christening by co-sponsor and UAF Dean Emerita Vera Alexander, from the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the “Song of Sikuliaq,” composed by Emerson Eads, a UAF graduate student. That piece was recorded by the Arctic Chamber Orchestra for the launch.

11/11/2016 - 3:49pm