News Archive

posted 10/01/04

New Ship Promises to Unveil Secrets of Our Planet

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University is pleased to announce the purchase of a new research vessel. The new ship will replace the Lamont-operated R/V Maurice Ewing, which has accumulated well over half a million miles of track in its service to science and exploration of ocean and deep Earth processes.

The National Science Foundation provided funding of more than $20M to support the purchase and refitting of this ship from Western Greco Inc, who has operated her for several years as a commercial seismic exploration vessel under the name "Western Legend." Following a year-long outfitting with modern laboratories and scientific equipment, she will become the most capable academic research vessel utilizing acoustic and seismic technologies in the world.

“The purchase of this new ship is the beginning of a new era in Lamont ship operations,” said G. Michael Purdy, Director of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The understanding of complex Earth processes has reached a level of sophistication that demands imaging capabilities superior to what is currently available to the academic community. The Western Legend will be fitted to become a crucial state-of-the-art research tool to further our knowledge of Earth, providing an ever closer and more detailed picture of this dynamic planet.”

The Western Legend will be equipped to carry out two- and three-dimensional imaging of the ocean floor and the Earth’s deep interior. These seismic cross sections, like CAT scans and sonograms in medicine provide a “direct look” into the Earth. What will be gleaned about sea floor spreading, earthquakes, magma flow, gas hydrate deposits, continental drift, and more will expand scientific knowledge about Earth and contribute to the ability of humans to withstand its extreme forces.

When operating as an academic research vessel, the Western Legend will be owned by The National Science Foundation, operated by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and under the advisement of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), an organization of 62 academic institutions and National Laboratories involved in oceanographic research. She will set sail as a research vessel, serving the US University research community in 2006 under a new name.

Acoustic and seismic research has contributed more to understanding Earth’s physical history, natural hazard potential, and climate systems than perhaps all other scientific technology combined. It gives scientists the ability to map the ocean floor, a tool that revolutionized earth sciences 50 years ago with the discovery that continents break apart and tectonic plates shift. It revealed the globe-encircling volcanic mid-ocean ridge system, earthquake-producing boundaries of crustal plates, drowned shorelines, and submarine landslide deposits.

The receiving systems used by Western Legend to record the sounds that probe the Earth's interior are substantially more sophisticated than that onboard R/V Maurice Ewing. This will allow greatly improved capabilities of imaging the Earth's deep interior without the need to increase the level of sounds transmitted into the ocean. This is fundamentally important to the research community's ability to make progress in its studies of the Earth's environment while minimizing possible impacts upon marine life.

Since 1953, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University has maintained full time operation of a research vessel, the Western Legend now being its fourth. Combined, these four vessels have circumnavigated the globe at least 20 times, covering three million nautical miles.

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is one of the world’s leading research centers examining the planet from its core to its atmosphere, across every continent and every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide the basic knowledge of Earth systems needed to inform the future health and habitability of our planet.

Western Legend Specifications:

Length: 235 feet
Beam: 56 feet
Displacement: 2578 m. tong
Horsepower: 7200 hp
Bollard pull: 86.2 m. tons
Speed (cruising max): 12/14 kt
Total complement/science party: 55/34 persons

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is among the world’s leading academic centers for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines—earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences—and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.