Oceans explorer heading for Walvis Bay

Scientists on board a research vessel will conduct studies of the Walvis Ridge.

03 December 2019 | Technology

The research vessel (RV) Thomas G. Thompson will call at the Port of Walvis Bay on 7 December.

Under the leadership of Dr. William W Sager from the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, scientists on board the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson will conduct studies of the Walvis Ridge from December to January.

The Walvis Ridge is an aseismic ocean ridge in the southern Atlantic Ocean . More than 3 000 km in length, it extends from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge , near Tristan da Cunha and the Gough Islands to the African coast (at 18°S in northern Namibia ).

It is regarded as one of few examples of a hotspot seamount chain that links a flood basalt province to an active hotspot. It is also considered one of the most important hotspot tracks because the Tristan Hotspot is one of few primary or deep mantle hotspots.

The RV Thomas G. Thompson is owned by the United States Navy and operated under a charter party agreement by the University of Washington as part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet.

The vessel is under lease to the UW School of Oceanography as of 2013 and is operated by the university alongside the RV Clifford A. Barnes.

Thomas Thompson was an oceanographer and had two oceanographic research ships named in his honour. He is recognized as one of the world's leading oceanographers and one of the pioneers who contributed to a better understanding of the chemistry of the sea.

As an American chemist he devoted major efforts to investigate the chemistry of sea water and founded the University of Washington's oceanographic laboratories in 1930.

He developed methods for the quantitative determination of many elements and ions in seawater. His main interest lay in determining the relationship between the chemical and physical properties of sea water - notably the specific gravity, refractivity and electrical conductivity.

His efforts in the field of oceanography were rewarded when the UW established a department of oceanography in 1951.

The RV Thomas G. Thompson underwent a US$52 million refit which was concluded in early 2018. This extended the Thompson’s life by another 15 to 20 years, enabling additional years of service, hundreds of thousands of ocean miles sailed, research opportunities for thousands of scientists, and the training of the next generation of sea-going scientists and technicians.

The vessel received new diesel engines, navigation and ship-positioning systems-as well as sophisticated sonar, allowing it to map the ocean floor in sharper detail and even differentiate between species of fish and other marine life.

The laboratories were updated to include advanced IT infrastructure to better support scientific data collection and analysis at sea, while also enabling improved real-time communications with shore.

Several critical sensor systems also were replaced, providing upgraded scientific capabilities and increased reliability. The air conditioning and heating systems, water-making and sewage plants were improved and a new drainage system was installed.

Since finishing the refit the revamped Thompson has sailed to New Zealand, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, South Africa and Australia.

Research projects include using special floats to measure the ocean’s temperature and salinity, mapping underwater mountains, and studying the heat flow generated by an aquatic volcano and hot springs.

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