Friday 31 May 2019 9:26am
The Polaris III design concept.
Plans to build a more capable and cost-effective research vessel to replace the University’s ageing Polaris II have received a major boost with a NZ$250,000 donation. The donation comes from Trammell S. Crow, a Dallas, Texas-based philanthropist and founder of EarthX, the world’s largest environmental sustainability expo.
Mr Crow says three years ago he spent a day at the University of Otago and was very impressed with the work it is doing on climate change and weather volatility. He was particularly impressed with the work of Honorary Professor Gary Wilson to develop the University’s marine science research.
“We’ve been following Gary for a couple of years now. He’s extremely active and dedicated to his research on the environment, specifically climate change, carbon dioxide and sea levels in the Antarctic, and the Southern Ocean.
“He’s highly committed to his work and we’d like to put up this significant investment and hope that others will follow our example.
“Otago is New Zealand’s preeminent research university, and considering the underlying growth in students wishing to study marine science and climate change, a dedicated faculty needs world-class training facilities.
The Polaris III design concept (aerial view).
Honorary Professor Gary Wilson says Otago has operated a research vessel for more than 30 years and for the past 12 years, the Polaris II has been extending the range and scope of University research through more extensive expeditions, and through teaching more students.
“The Polaris II, is an older wooden vessel, and it needs replacing as research challenges and teaching needs grow. Globally, there has never been a more important time for marine research. Our research requires greater technical capability and our teaching requires on-the-water training across a range of environments with improved technologies.”
Polaris II is an ex-longliner converted into an offshore-capable research vessel. Built specifically for West Coast river bars, it was not designed for constant work in the challenging Southern Ocean. It was bought by the University in 2006, and began work in 2007. It has a maximum cruising speed of just 8 knots. It sleeps only 12 and this greatly limits class sizes.
“The University has committed initial funding of $NZ 500,000 for a new research vessel, and is seeking additional support through a fund-raising campaign,” Professor Wilson says.
Marine Science Head of Department Professor Steve Dawson says, “A replacement vessel needs to have more than a single engine, a faster cruising speed, more accommodation (room for 20 people), stronger construction in steel or aluminium, more deck space to allow special purpose containerised labs, a low acoustic signature to minimise disturbance and facilitate acoustic research.”
Pro-Vice-Chancellor Sciences Professor Richard Barker says, “It’s really important that there’s an active marine science programme at Otago, especially as we are the closest university to the Sothern Ocean. We have been ranked number one in the world in oceanography research by Thompson Reuters.
“Honorary Professor Wilson has recently been appointed General Manager Strategy and Chief Scientist at GNS and we hope that this will mean stronger ties with GNS.
“Our students have submitted more than 40 theses from their graduate work on the Polaris II. We have brought together chemists, geologists, biologists, ecologists, and physicists to work together on the global challenge of understanding our changing world and engaging wider communities – particularly industry in taking action,” Professor Barker says.
Otago graduate and US based finance expert, Greenstone Capital Management Partners Chris White says, “We are passionate about this critical area of study, and investing in a new boat that will directly increase and enhance the capability and publications/critical research carried out by the University. We know that more than 100 published research papers are due to the work done on Polaris II, and we think strategically it makes a replacement vessel one of the most important assets for the University. Anyone considering donating to it can get a high level of critical research/publications from their donation.
“That and saving the planet is about the most important thing we can do!”
Last month the Director of the University’s Development and Alumni Relations Office Shelagh Murray and Professor Wilson, at Mr Crow’s invitation, managed a stand at EarthX to promote the University’s research into environmental sustainability.
EarthX is a non-profit organisation focused on environmental education and awareness. Its annual expo brings together environmental organisations, businesses, academic institutions, government agencies from around the world.
“It was wonderful having the University at EarthX. We were the only university outside the United States to have a stand there, and it is an amazing event,” Ms Murray says.
The Polaris III design concept (bow view).
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