28 February 2024

CSIRO forced to reduce research vessel science voyages due to funding shortfall

| Andrew McLaughlin
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RV Investigator

The RV Investigator is operated by MMA Offshore Limited on behalf of the CSIRO. Photo: CSIRO.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) Hobart-based research vessel is facing a shortfall in its funding over the forward estimates that may see it have to reduce its sailing days by a third.

The RV Investigator has been funded to the tune of $59 million over the next four years, despite the CSIRO saying it needs $93 million in order to be at sea 300 days per year. This has resulted in two research voyages being cut from the vessel’s program in 2025-26, and its operational at-sea time reduced to just 200 days.

The RV Investigator is an ocean research vessel tasked with supporting Australia’s atmospheric, oceanographic, biological and geoscience research from the tropical north to the Antarctic ice edge.

The $120 million research vessel can accommodate 40 researchers and technical staff plus 20 crew, and it has an endurance of 60 days and 10,000 nautical miles without requiring resupply.

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Its scientific equipment is capable of mapping the ocean floor at any depth, studying marine life found between 1500 to 3000 metres below the surface, collecting weather data in a 150-kilometre radius around and 20 kilometres above the ship, and capturing seawater samples from depths to 6000 metres.

It has successfully completed 100 research voyages and travelled more than 500,000 km over the past decade.

A report by the ABC says the vessel could be moored in Hobart for more than 160 days a year if the funding isn’t boosted, and that this has already had an impact on the planned voyages in 2025-26.

“I think it’s a terrible tragedy,” former CSIRO oceanographer Professor Tom Trull told the ABC. “In terms of the science, it’s a significant loss.

“It’s a great facility and it’s operated well,” he added. “It’s a nice platform with a big back deck for mooring work and it can take a wide range of specialist equipment to sea and about 40 scientists.”

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Tasmanian Federal Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson raised the funding issue at a Senate Estimates hearing in February.

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to have this boat sitting idle on the docks when it should be out there doing critical research,” Mr Whish-Wilson told the ABC.

“Some of the projects that rely on the RV Investigator such as marine observations, are absolutely critical to our understanding of the changing climate and the impact that’s having on us.”

The CSIRO told Senate Estimates that while it was unclear what effect the funding shortfall would have , it was able to speak to the likelihood of reduced at-sea days.

The vessel is operated by MMA Offshore Limited on behalf of the CSIRO after a ship management services agreement was agreed last August, and is scheduled to undergo a 78-day refit in 2025.

The RV Investigator is part of the Marine National Facility, national research infrastructure funded by the Australian Government and managed by the CSIRO.

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