The Virginia Institute of Marine Science is stepping up the science behind managing state fisheries, as well as research on how the planet is changing with a newly built 93-foot, state-of-the-art research vessel, the R/V Virginia.
VIMS has some 30 vessels in its research fleet, including the 65-foot Bay Eagle. But the long-anticipated Virginia will allow scientists to stay at sea for longer stretches, go farther up the Chesapeake Bay and stay longer out in the Atlantic with fewer stops for fuel and supplies as they research water quality, the health of fish stocks and take deep core samples.
John Wells, Dean and Director of VIMS, explains why those core samples are so important. "There's a historical record in the bottom and those cores are taken, they're brought up to the surface, they can tell us a lot about the history of sediments and also about changes that have occurred in the ocean or in the bay over time," Wells says.
That research feeds into other data that helps scientists figure out how the planet has changed over time, including the climate. "For example, currents, storms, changes in discharge in the rivers from heavy rains that bring new sediments into the bays and ultimately out into the ocean. So, we can take all of this, piece it all together and start answering a wide-range of questions having to do with the geology, the biology, the chemistry, the physics of the ocean and the bottom," Wells says. "That gives us some clues about how the planet is changing."
While Captain John Olney, Jr. is excited about the capabilities of his new vessel, including pulling the 283-ton vessel into 9-feet of water. The new ship also means trips will be longer, which can be hard on the captain's wife and baby. "She's good with it," Olney jokes. "But more than two weeks or so she wants me home. We have a one-year-old daughter too, so that makes it worse."
Next year, you might be able to see the new vessel conducting research off Virginia Beach or heading north to Maine waters.