Quantcast
Explorer of the Seas
SCIENTIFIC
EXPLORATION ON
EXPLORER OF THE SEAS

By RICHARD H. WAGNER

(Originally published in The Porthole,
World Ship Society, Port of New York Branch, June 2007)  


   
Dr. Otis Brown
As part of Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager-class, EXPLORER OF THE SEAS is one of the
largest cruise ships now in operation.  However, the 137,308-gross-ton ship is also one of the world’s
largest ocean research vessels by virtue of the fact that she maintains in continuous operation a fully
equipped laboratory in which scientists are doing serious research about the ocean and atmospheric
conditions.

The Ocean Lab project came about as a result of a conversation between Jack Williams, then-
President of RCI, and Dr. Otis Brown, Dean of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric
Science at the University of Miami.  After listening to the difficulties scientists encounter in doing   
research at sea, Williams asked whether Brown had ever considered establishing a laboratory on a
cruise ship.  The idea intrigued Brown and the dialogue continued for another six months until a formal
proposal was submitted by the school to RCI.  At the same time, requests for funding and for
instrumentation were made to the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The proposals to the federal agencies required peer review and
thus, “This was vetted by the scientific community before it ever started, and once we got beyond
‘you’re going to do what on a cruise ship?,’ people kind of got interested in the project,” remembers
Dr. Brown.

The concept of having a laboratory on a cruise ship had a clear attraction for scientists.  Because of
the high cost and limited availability of ocean research vessels, it is not practical to make observations
of any particular part of the ocean on a frequent and regular basis.   The most that can be hoped for
are occasional snapshots, sometimes months or years apart, with extrapolations made about what
happened in between.  A cruise ship such as EXPLORER OF THE SEAS runs on a regular itinerary,
visiting the same waters week after week.  As Dr. Brown notes, “In one of our studies, we started
looking at the ship tracks and I mean it is literally within minutes and tens of meters on a track whether
the ship is in the same place at the same time. [This allows the scientists to do] very repetitive
sampling.  What this means is that we get a regional picture twice a month.  We didn’t have this
practice before this ship started doing this.”

A second benefit emerged once the program got underway.  Because the laboratory is open to the
passengers, the scientists and graduate students are put “in the position where they have to describe to
the general public what it is they are doing, what motivates them, and why it is good for society.”  Dr.
Brown feels that this is a valuable educational experience for his students.  “Scientists are not really
good about doing that.  We communicate the geeky part pretty well but not the fun.”  Accordingly, all
graduate students at the Rosenstiel School are now encouraged to participate in the Ocean Lab.

For RCI, the Ocean Lab has several pluses. To begin with, it helps demonstrate that RCI is a good,
environmentally conscious, corporate citizen.  In the early 1990s, RCI suffered a black eye when an
investigation by the Coast Guard and the Department of Justice found that, contrary to company
policy, some RCI ships were discharging bilge oil into the ocean.  Today, RCI maintains an
environmentally friendly operating culture with the zealousness of a convert. According to a company
statement, “Protecting the world’s oceans and the rich marine life they support is a way of life and of
doing business for Royal Caribbean International.”  To this end, it operates according to an
environmental program called “Save the Waves,” which is based upon three principles: reducing the
creation or generation of waste materials, recycling, and ensuring proper disposal of waste.    In
addition, RCI has created the Ocean Fund, which RCI Senior Vice President, Marine Operations,
Captain William S. Wright describes as “a fund that we put in place to support marine conservation
and research.  I think we have donated something like $8 million to about 49 projects and institutions
around the world.”  The Ocean Lab project underscores this environmental commitment.  “Obviously,
the ocean is the basis for our business, so our environmental consciousness is very much at the center
of our whole operating philosophy. To have the Ocean Lab and to understand that we are making a
difference - - the science is cutting edge and it is really meaningful - - is something we are really proud
of,” says Captain Wright.

The Ocean Lab also benefits RCI in that it is a unique attraction for passengers.  No other major
cruise line offers passengers the opportunity to visit an operating scientific laboratory and to interact
with the scientists who are doing experiments and collecting data.  At first glance, this may seem like a
mismatch inasmuch as RCI seeks to attract passengers with an “active” lifestyle who are interested in
rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks and water sports facilities.  However, Captain Wright points out,
“In the six years [since the project began], we have had over 80,000 of our guests go through the lab
and participate in the interactive Eco-Learning Center that we also have on board, and that is huge.  It
is something we can offer our guests that is unique and very meaningful to them.  They walk away
with a very positive experience.”

Establishing this attraction was not free for RCI.  When the decision was made to go ahead with the
project, EXPLORER was already under construction.  Consequently, areas that had already been
completed had to be ripped out and converted into laboratory space.  Sensors had to be built into the
hull for taking samples.  Miles of fiber optic cable were laid to link the sensors to the labs.  In all, over
$3.5 million was spent by RCI.  Another million was contributed by the federal government and half a
million by the University of Miami.

Some 280 scientists have sailed on EXPLORER as part of the Ocean Lab project.  They have
launched more than 800 weather balloons and taken 1,200 water samples.  This research has resulted
in 100 scientific papers by the faculty of the Rosenstiel School alone.

One of the issues that is being researched by the Ocean Lab is the regional intake of carbon dioxide by
the ocean. Dr Brown explains, “Something like a third of the carbon dioxide that we put into the
atmosphere ends up sequestered in the ocean.  We are trying to understand the regional variability of
that.  The one thing that is clear whether you believe in greenhouse warming or not is that the CO2
concentration in the atmosphere is increasing.  So the question is, what is that going to mean to the
upper ocean, what is it going to mean to the biological pump in the ocean, what does it mean to the
acidity of the upper ocean and ecosystem in the ocean?  This is one way that we can start to get at that
by better understanding regional variability.”

Among other things, the Ocean Lab is also being used to validate observations made by NOAA and
NASA satellites and to study the circulation of the Gulf Stream.  The lab’s instrumentation takes
atmospheric measurements which are sent  via satellite communication hourly to the National Weather
Service.   With EXPLORER now spending part of each year operating out of New York Harbor, the
lab can now study a wider area.  “Not only can we now look at tropical phenomena in the Caribbean
but [in the winter and fall] we can start to look at Nor-easters and how they develop off of New
England.”  Dr. Brown notes.

“You think a cruise ship, it must be for show, it can’t be real. Trust me, it is all real and really high
quality data is coming out of it.” Referring to the name of the ship, Dr. Brown concluded, “It is very
consistent with the theme of this vessel, I mean of ocean exploration.  That is why we are here.”
There are more photos
(including exterior photos) and
more information  about
EXPLORER OF THE SEAS on
the EXPLORER OF THE SEAS
Profile Page

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE PROFILE PAGE
Cruise ship interview - Royal Caribbean - Explorer of the Seas - Dr. Otis Brown and Captain William Wright
BEYONDSHIPS HOME

CRUISE SHIPS HOME

CRUISE ARTICLES

CRUISE FAQS

CRUISE DESTINATIONS

ROYAL CARIBBEAN PAGE

ADVENTURE OF THE SEAS PROFILE

ALLURE OF THE SEAS PROFILE

ANTHEM OF THE SEAS PROFILE

BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS PROFILE

ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS PROFILE

EXPLORER OF THE SEAS PROFILE

FREEDOM OF THE SEAS PROFILE

GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS PROFILE

HARMONY OF THE SEAS PROFILE

INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS PROFILE

JEWEL OF THE SEAS PROFILE

LEGEND OF THE SEAS PROFILE

LIBERTY OF THE SEAS PROFILE

MAJESTY OF THE SEAS PROFILE

MONARCH OF THE SEAS

NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS PROFILE

OASIS OF THE SEAS PROFILE

QUANTUM OF THE SEAS PROFILE

RADIANCE OF THE SEAS PROFILE

SERENADE OF THE SEAS PROFILE

VISION OF THE SEAS PROFILE