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12 December 2022 4 min read

Australia’s super science ship, our research vessel (RV) Investigator, officially sailed into active science duty (aka it was commissioned) on 12 December 2014.

Since then, the vessel has sailed far and wide to deliver marine research for the nation. It's carried collaborative teams of scientists to study our vast oceans and atmosphere. Our total tally is 90 voyages – and counting – including all our sea trial and training voyages.

To celebrate, we're looking back on the marine science that has been delivered. Here are eight of our favourite things RV Investigator has helped us achieve in the eight years.

Australia's favourite ocean research vessel, RV Investigator, has just turned eight! Image: Owen Foley.

1. Supporting saltwater science

We commenced the Indigenous Time at Sea Scholarship (ITSS) in 2019. This offers berths to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students so they can gain experience on a world-class ocean research vessel. The program delivers a wealth of benefits for everyone involved.

A huge congrats to our inaugural ITSS alumni – Sophie Gilbey and Tiahni Adamson – both recently named 2023-24 Superstars of STEM!

ITSS students, Tiahni Adamson and Sophie Gilbey (middle) with ITSS coordinators Dr Ben Arthur (L) and Hannah McCleary (R). Image: Hannah McCleary.

2. Uncovering lost history

The scientific systems on RV Investigator are impressive and the ship is covered with sensors. These are put to good use on each voyage, including our seafloor mapping systems. These can map the seafloor to any ocean depth in our region and have allowed us to make significant discoveries.

We located the wreck of SS Iron Crown in 2019, a ship sunk during World War II. This discovery ultimately led to two siblings – Bill and Beryl – being reunited after being apart for nearly 80 years!

3. Making new eight-armed friends

No marine story on the theme of eight would be complete without including an octopus. We’ve met many an underwater eight-armed friend during our voyages, and we've even discovered new species for Biodiversity Club.

You never know when you might be surprised by new life in the ocean. Or by a squid.


4. Training our next-gen marine experts

Give someone a fish and feed them for a day. Teach someone to study marine ecosystems and they'll change the face of marine science.

Training the next generation of marine experts is one of our core priorities for RV Investigator. Importantly, it builds our capability as a nation to better study, understand and manage our precious marine environment and growing the blue economy.

That’s why we partnered with Macquarie University to pilot a first of its kind program called CAPSTAN – Collaborative Australian Post-Graduate Sea Training Alliance Network. This program offers university students and trainers invaluable at-sea experience on RV Investigator. This supports intergenerational knowledge transfer and equips students with industry-relevant training.

Watch this space for the roll out of the full CAPSTAN program in the coming year!

Every voyage on RV Investigator offers opportunities for student training. Image: Hannah Power.

5. Being the first mobile Global Atmosphere Watch station

In 2018, the World Meteorological Organization recognised RV Investigator as a full time regional station in its Global Atmosphere Watch network. This network seeks to understand the short-term variability and long-term trends in the composition of the atmosphere. We were the first marine vessel, and thus the first mobile station included in the network.

Everywhere we go, we’re collecting vital data that contributes to the better understanding and modelling of the atmosphere and our climate.

6. Bringing biodiversity into the world

RV Investigator has enabled some epic voyages of biodiscovery. From 2015’s deep-water studies in the Great Australian Bight to 2022's surveying the Gascoyne Marine Park, these voyages are helping to increase our understanding of the life that inhabits our underwater worlds.

Sharing the discoveries from these voyages is vital. It helps increase public awareness of the beauty and diversity of life beneath the waves and is part of our mission.

Although, sometimes, these stories can get a little weird.


7. Taking marine science to new depths

Our marine research can now go to great depths. Before RV Investigator, Australia lacked the capability to conduct surveys and studies in our deepest regions. Now, we do them nearly every voyage.

How deep can we go? Today our record depth for deploying equipment is just over 6000 metres for a CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) instrument cast. Can we go deeper? Sure. But in our region, we’re hitting seafloor pretty much everywhere at that depth.

8. Collaborating with you!

More than 1100 people have participated on RV Investigator voyages since commissioning in 2014. Image: April Abbott.

RV Investigator can bring together teams of up to 40 researchers from across the globe to collaborate in delivering amazing science. At 94 metres long, the ship is an upsize from its 66-metre predecessor, RV Southern Surveyor. This means RV Investigator is a collaboration hub for marine research.

Since commissioning, we’ve had 2569 participants on our voyages, with 1144 individual participants. Yes, there are a few frequent sailors in there. In fact, one member of our team is close to spending nearly two full years of their life at sea on RV Investigator!

Thanks to everyone who’s been on board – and on shore – to make all this science possible. We look forward to continuing to bring you the marine research you’re looking for.

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