U.S. research ship leads data-collection expedition in Indo-Pacific


The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship Rainier embarked in February 2023 on a dual-purpose journey to improve security and scientific research in the Indo-Pacific. The mission, known as RICHARD (Rainier Integrates Charting, Hydrography, and Reef Demographics) involves collecting mapping data to update navigational charts, as well as integrating data on coral reef ecosystems.

In addition to capturing imagery of the sea floor with side-scan sonar and depth measurements with multibeam echo sounders, teams aboard the 70-meter hydrographic survey ship will conduct dives from its five launches during the monthslong voyage across the Pacific, from American Samoa and Palmyra Atoll to Kingsman Reef and beyond before returning to Hawaii.

The Rainier, pictured, and its launches also carry data acquisition and processing computers, differential global positioning systems, positioning and altitude systems, and bottom samplers, tide gauges, land survey equipment, and sound velocimeters, according to NOAA.

Rainier’s data will be available online to allies and partners to foster partnerships and encourage innovation for a safer, healthier ocean environment.

“We’re showcasing the data,” said Rainier’s commanding officer, NOAA Corps Capt. Casanova, who is heading the mission. “And as everyone looks at it, they can provide better ideas on how to approach a problem, or see things in a different way, and maybe actually help out by considering: What is the next question that we need to be asking?”

The information could benefit Pacific Island communities, commercial maritime crews, scientists tracking climate change and marine life, and military planners, Casanova said.

It also will help answer key questions about navigational safety, coral reef ecosystems and the fisheries on which many Pacific communities rely. Data will also enhance warning systems such as models used to forecast tsunamis.

The Rainier’s mission is an example of the increasingly collaborative approach to scientific endeavors globally. NOAA crews also engage frequently with the U.S. Navy, for example, and make large volumes of open-source data accessible to allies and partners across academic, industrial and other communities via improved technology and public-private partnerships.

“I heard some stats … about the petabytes of data that NOAA vessels and satellites and other observational platforms collect on a daily basis, and it’s just staggering … where we’ve come in the last 20 years, and where we’re going in the next 20 years,” said NOAA Corps Capt. Daniel Simon, NOAA liaison to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.



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