Homecoming for Melville


Under sunny skies and a steady breeze, the research vessel Melville pulled into her home port at 1:25 p.m. on September 23. After 49 research missions covering more than 100,000 nautical miles across 10 countries and 17 ports, the vessel triumphantly returned after a two-and-a-half year voyage.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego research vessel’s “Magellan Expedition” featured a broad range of science, from undersea volcanoes to ocean acoustics.

Discoveries during the expedition included dramatic close-up observations of a deep-sea volcanic eruption, including red lava, plumes of ash, liquid carbon dioxide, and molten sulfur, all of which were observed by a robotic submersible controlled from a command module aboard R/V Melville.

Scripps geophysicists Jeff Gee and Steve Cande used R/V Melville as an “aircraft carrier” by launching and recovering unmanned aerial vehicles at sea to more efficiently conduct studies on Earth’s geomagnetic field. The earth’s magnetic field’s intensity has been weakening for more than 150 years, which could eventually leave electrical grids vulnerable and widen ozone holes in the atmosphere.

Scripps’ Bill Hodgkiss led a study of the turbulent seas off Kauai to measure the physical properties of sound traveling through the ocean, while Scripps oceanographer Eric Terrill used Melville to deploy, test, and recover profiling drifters in the remote deep ocean. Scripps geochemist David Hilton captured samples of seafloor between Fiji and Samoa to better understand seafloor spreading centers and volcanic seamounts. Dan Rudnick, Jim Dufour, and their colleagues conducted experiments originating in Taiwan using Spray gliders equipped with an array of sensors to observe oceanic flows and tidal forces.

Other Magellan Expedition countries included Guam, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

“This expedition included everything from physical oceanography to biological oceanography to geology—looking at virtually everything about the ocean,” said Bruce Appelgate, Scripps’ associate director for Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support. “The logistical challenges of a two-and-a-half year deployment are intricate, and our shipboard crews and shoreside support staff have done a remarkable job. It gives me great satisfaction to see Melville back in her home port at the Scripps Nimitz Marine Facility.”

Melville’s return from the success of the Magellan Expedition is yet another reminder of the importance of Scripps’ research vessels and the entire academic fleet,” said Scripps Director Tony Haymet, UC San Diego Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences. “The science conducted aboard Melville is an example of the vital research required in the exploration of our planet.”

Built in 1969, the 279-foot R/V Melville is the oldest active vessel in the academic research fleet, collectively known as the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System.

“The mission of Melville, and all of Scripps’ ships, is to explore the earth’s remarkable oceans, which makes the entire planet our study area,” said Appelgate. “Scripps’ ships are extensions of our laboratories and they provide scientists with the unique ability to make the all-important measurements and observations they need.”

--Mario C. Aguilera

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