Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that a consortium co-led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) and the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has been awarded a four-year National Science Foundation (NSF) cooperative agreement to operate one of three new $106 million Regional Class Research Vessels (RCRV).
“This is something that we have been working on for the last three years, and we are excited to see it come to fruition,” said Gov. Edwards. “We appreciate the NSF for recognizing the importance of building these vessels and look forward to the research they will provide concerning the geological impacts of hurricanes in the Gulf on the fisheries and their production and oil and gas resources along Louisiana’s coast and globally. It’s also a double win for our state with Louisiana shipbuilders constructing the vessels here and LUMCON operating one as well.”
The NSF will spend at least $318 million to build three new RCRVs, which are being constructed by Gulf Island Fabrication in Houma, LA, near the new marine campus. The three ships will be operated by the Gulf RCRV Consortium (a partnership between LUMCON and USM), Oregon State University (West Coast) and the University of Rhode Island (East Coast).
LUMCON currently operates one of the most substantial oceanographic research programs and maintains one of the largest fleets of research vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Craig McClain, Executive Director of LUMCON, said, "The U.S. is a pioneer of ocean exploration and the RCRV will be fundamental to maintaining this tradition. The Gulf of Mexico has a rich history of exploration with critical scientific breakthroughs radically changing our understanding of how the oceans work. These ideas and the first steps of data collection leading to these breakthroughs occurred on the decks and in the labs of research vessels. Through the dedicated efforts of a Gulf wide consortium we are able to bring this essential, enabling resource to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico."
The Louisiana Board of Regents supported the LUMCON grant, providing $500,000 in match from the Board of Regents Support Fund, and is excited about the potential of this collaborative partnership.
“The research and innovation that can be achieved through the use of this new scientific vessel is unlimited and will undoubtedly impact the prosperity of Louisiana’s communities and economy in a positive way,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed. “Louisiana’s marine researchers cherish opportunities like this one, which can yield solutions to some of our most challenging issues, including hurricane tracking and offshore fishery expansion. We are grateful to NSF for this opportunity and excited for LUMCON as well.”
“The LUMCON researchers and staff have worked extremely hard to compete for this NSF award allowing them to manage this impressive ship,” said Board of Regents Chairman Marty Chabert. “I look forward to hearing more about their exploration activities and how this can positively impact our state, our nation and our world.”
Today’s news builds on opportunities already underway in Louisiana as a result of the state’s $12 million investment in the construction of a new Marine Operations Center. The Center is designed to pair the research and academic strength of Louisiana’s higher education institutions, anchored by LUMCON and Fletcher Technical Community College, in support of the economic and workforce needs of the maritime industry.
The United States’ academic research fleet of scientific vessels is aging and ship retirements have shrunk the size of the fleet from 28 in 2004 to just 20 today. Of the U.S.’s eight ships retired in the last fifteen years, approximately two were based in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to The Economics and Policy Research Group of the LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business, the impact of the Houma Marine Education Campus will include the following:
◊ Construction and operations at the new campus (including the Marine Operations Center) will generate over $220 million in spending over the next twenty years.
◊ The campus will generate over $125 million in earnings and $470 million in total economic output over the next twenty years.
◊ The new campus will lead to more than $8 million in saved productivity for LUMCON by avoiding operational shutdowns due to high water and other inclement conditions.
The RCRVs are state-of-the-art research vessels approximately 200 feet in length and capable of taking a complement of 29 crew and scientists to sea for 21 days. They will be fully equipped to complete ocean crossings and operate in light ice.
As part of the Gulf-Caribbean Oceanographic Consortium (GCOC), LUMCON and USM will operate the third ship, slated to be completed in 2023 and fully operational after a year of rigorous sea trials.