NOAA 96-R805
Contact: Jeanne Kouhestani              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


One of the "grand dames" of oceanographic research was recently decommissioned after completing 30 years of service and sailing over a million nautical miles, a distance roughly equivalent to two round trips to the moon.

Her career included two of the largest oceanographic experiments ever conducted, and most recently a study of undersea volcanic activity off the Washington-Oregon coast. This last study used the same side-scan sonar technology that her fellow National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship RUDE used last month to locate the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, N.Y.

The grand dame is the NOAA ship DISCOVERER, commissioned in 1967 into NOAA's predecessor agency, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. At the time considered the most advanced vessels of their kind in the world, the 303-ft. DISCOVERER and her sister ship OCEANOGRAPHER were also the largest ships ever constructed by the United States exclusively for oceanographic work. DISCOVERER has been home ported at NOAA's Pacific Marine Center in Seattle, Wash., since 1975.

"The DISCOVERER has provided the ocean platform for exciting oceanographic and atmospheric research in areas as diverse as biological communities found in hydrothermal vents beneath the ocean floor, to global warming. We're sad to say goodbye to the ship because she represents the last of her kind. The era of large research vessels has passed in these times of tight budgets and personnel cutbacks," said NOAA Corps Rear Admiral John Albright, director of NOAA's Pacific and Atlantic Marine Centers.

DISCOVERER has operated in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, from the Arctic to the Antarctic ice shelf. During her final cruise, called VENTS, scientists used side-scan sonar to produce images with unprecedented detail of seafloor characteristics and sub-seafloor structures for three areas on the Juan de Fuca and Gorda Ridges. VENTS is a study of recent volcanic eruptions and hydrothermal venting processes near undersea volcanoes.

During her final field season, DISCOVERER also provided the platform for two of the largest oceanograhic experiments ever conducted -- the first Aerosol Characterization Experiment (ACE-1) and the final Pacific cruise for the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) -- to determine the effects of atmospheric pollution on global climate, and to understand the physics of climate change on Earth. Results from these cruises will be used to improve global climate, ocean circulation and greenhouse gas models.

DISCOVERER's important legacy of oceanographic observations and data sets will live on in scientific literature, benefitting researchers -- and ultimately the American people -- for generations to come.

Until its recent decommissioning, DISCOVERER was operated by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations. The ship's officers are members of the NOAA Commissioned Corps, a uniformed seagoing service that is similar to -- but not part of -- the Navy or Coast Guard. NOAA Corps officers were responsible for all aspects of the DISCOVERER's daily management and cruise operations, including driving and navigating the ship. They also managed and operated the onboard sophisticated data acquisition and processing systems and computer/communications networks, and directed all over-the-side scientific data collection operations.


NOTE TO EDITORS: Further information about the DISCOVERER cruise and projects, and a photograph of the ship, can be found on the Internet at: For information about the Office of NOAA Corps Operations, see: