Three research vessels operated by US and French institutions will be working in the Southern Ocean and Tasman Sea this summer, and will make port calls in Hobart during the next month.

The French ship, L’Atalante, arrives on December 26 to undertake a geoscience voyage to the Southeast Indian Ridge mid-way between Australia and Antarctica. The science party is predominantly French, but also includes PhD student Sally Watson from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS).

L’Atalante, operated by the French marine science agency Ifremer, was last in Hobart in 1999 when mapping the seafloor of the continental margin of southeastern Australia including around the South Tasman Rise. The South Tasman Rise is a large, NW-trending bathymetric feature that rises to less than 1000 m below sea level, and is separated from Tasmania by a WNW-trending saddle more than 3000 m deep.

L’Atlante will depart Hobart on January 1 for the Southeast Indian Ridge, an active mid-ocean ridge. Dubbed the STORM project (South Tasmania Ocean Ridge and Mantle project), the science party of oceanographers and geoscientists aims to investigate a relatively unexplored segment of the ridge 1300 km southwest of Tasmania. During the voyage the crew plans to map complex transform fault systems, acquire other geophysical data, take measurements of the water column, and obtain samples from the ridge, surrounding seamounts, and hydrothermal vents.

The Chair of the Tasmanian Polar Network, Mr John Brennan, said the visits are important stopovers for the Hobart port, and the State’s international science hub.

“There’s an important economic benefit in these calls for the State, but more significantly they highlight the international role Hobart plays as a marine and Antarctic research, management, and education centre,” Mr Brennan said.

The two US-based vessels are the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s RV Falkor and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s RV Roger Revelle.

RV Falkor was last used by IMAS scientists for geoscience research in the western Pacific in October/November. Falkor is offered to ocean science on a philanthropic basis by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a non-profit aimed at advancing oceanographic research, discovery and knowledge about the oceans.

She will carry Tasmanian scientists on a research project investigating internal tides of the Tasman Sea, home to the largest internal tides on the globe. Internal tides form when regular tides that we are more familiar with push water up and over seafloor features such as seamounts or ridges. The turbulence created by that movement spawns underwater waves that can propagate horizontally in multiple directions. These waves also reflect off the sea surface and the seafloor, so they can be found at any depth.

The goal of the research on both vessels is to identify waves originating from internal tides on the eastern continental slope of Tasmania, and determine their physical characteristics. The study also links to understanding the overall circulation of heat in the world’s oceans.

The Roger Revelle, also 83 metres in length, will deploy a series of deep ocean moorings across the Tasman Sea in the joint project, funded through the US National Science Foundation and other research institutions including IMAS.

Other research vessels calling to Hobart this summer will include the Japanese resupply vessel Umitaku Maru, a regular visitor, and the Nathaniel B.Palmer, a National Science Foundation icebreaker that will be calling in March and May.

Apply at the University of Tasmania for courses like the world class Masters of Applied Science (Marine Environment) and you too could find yourself like Sally Watson climbing aboard and setting sail for the high seas on one of these research vessels.