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State allocates $61 million for Scripps Oceanography programs

A rendering depicts the research vessel that Scripps Oceanography will design and build with $35 million in state funding.
A rendering depicts the research vessel the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will design and build with $35 million in state funding.
(Courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

When the state issued its budget for the coming year, it contained more than $61 million for projects and programs at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.

The funds include $35 million to design and build a new coastal research vessel with a first-of-its-kind hydrogen-hybrid propulsion system, $15 million for the ALERTWildfire program to install 1,000 cameras, $10 million toward the state Department of Water Resources atmospheric rivers research program and $1.5 million for the state Parks and Recreation Department oceanography program to support observations maintained by the Coastal Data Information Program at Scripps.

“It’s a great day for UC San Diego and a great day for California,” UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said at a news conference July 23.

The facility, where late oceanographer Walter Munk once worked, may join his La Jolla home on the list.

Khosla said the funding “would not be possible if the Legislature … did not have the vision and the dream for what it means to strengthen San Diego and California in terms of very informed decision-making when it comes to the environment.”

Research vessel

Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for marine sciences at UC San Diego and director of Scripps Oceanography, said the largest expenditure — the yet-to-be-named research vessel — would replace the RV Robert Gordon Sproul, which has been in use since 1981, and will join the SIO fleet.

Margaret Leinen and Pradeep Khosla appear at a news conference July 23.
Margaret Leinen, vice chancellor for marine sciences at UC San Diego and director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla appear at a news conference July 23.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The expeditions the vessels undertake “are keys to solving problems as well as just understanding them, really providing the solutions we so desperately need today,” Leinen said. They include studies of ocean acidification, marine fisheries, El Niño storms, harmful algae blooms, sea-level rise, atmospheric rivers and more.

The new vessel, by running largely on hydrogen, “will allow us to observe our rapidly changing coastal environment and protect that environment by not emitting CO2,” she said.

The propulsion system on the vessel uses zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells with a conventional diesel-electric power plant, enabling zero-emission operation. The vessel also will be equipped with instruments and sensing systems.

The fleet managed by Scripps includes the Navy-owned research vessels Sally Ride and Roger Revelle, which conduct global oceanographic research, and the RV Bob and Betty Beyster, a nearshore scientific work boat. All research vessels are stationed and maintained at the university’s Nimitz Marine Facility in Point Loma.

ALERTWildfire cameras

The state funding will provide for the installation of 1,000 cameras across California by 2022.

ALERTWildfire, a joint project among SIO, the University of Nevada, Reno, and the University of Oregon, installed its first round of high-definition cameras last year. The cameras are able to pan, tilt, zoom and perform 360-degree sweeps about every two minutes at 12 frames per sweep. The cameras also provide 24-hour monitoring with near-infrared night vision capabilities.

Each camera can view as far as 60 miles on a clear day and 120 miles on a clear night. Fire agencies and utilities can access real-time data to confirm 911 calls, triangulate the location of a fire at its earliest stages and make decisions during and after wildfires.

Atmospheric rivers research

After seven years of planning, testing and demonstration, research from SIO’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes will enter the implementation phase after the state funding.

“This is a significant step forward in our capacity to carry out the research, testing, implementation and integrating some of the results into California Department of Water Resources operations,” said Marty Ralph, the center’s director.

“The funding will help the center advance the understanding and prediction of atmospheric rivers, which are storms that produce a lot of rain and snow that are vital to our water supply and also can create flooding,” Ralph said. “It also supports the use of that forecast predictions in reservoir operations. … So keep a little extra water after a storm that would have otherwise been released because there is no atmospheric river predicted to come in the next few days. Then they can look ahead again and if there are no atmospheric rivers coming, they can keep that water an extra day, and then next you know we have more water for summer.”

Center deputy director Julie Kalansky added that the program encourages “climate resiliency” in that “we can be better able to adapt and prepare for those big [weather] events, because they are coming. Historically we know they come, but climate projections are showing these big events are going to get bigger in the future.”

Coastal data

A continuing project that again received funding this year is the Coastal Data Information Program.

Program manager James Behrens said it has been funded for more than 40 years to monitor waves along the coast.

“We have 10 buoy stations that have wave-sensing buoys along the coast,” Behrens said. “We provide real-time wind conditions. Every 30 minutes, these buoys transmit the latest information about wave height, direction, how many seconds in between and sends it to the weather service, port operators and the public.”

The data can be found at cdip.ucsd.edu. ◆