August 5, 2009

NOAA to open marine ops center in Ore.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it plans to open a marine operations center in Newport, Ore., moving four vessels from Seattle.

The Pacific Coast site -- including berthing for the four agency ships and two visiting ships and environmentally sustainable buildings -- is to begin operations in July 2011, pending the signing of a 20-year lease, NOAA said.

The ships will join the R/V Wecoma, a research vessel at the nearby Hatfield Marine Science Center owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by Oregon State University.

The NOAA center's research vessels will churn over thousands of Pacific Ocean miles, gathering data that build understanding of climate change, ocean and atmospheric behavior and fisheries, officials said.

The center operates nine research and survey vessels out of Seattle, San Diego, Honolulu and Kodiak and Ketchikan, Alaska.

Seattle's four NOAA vessels will be docked in Newport, The (Portland, Ore.) Oregonian said.

A July 4, 2006, electrical fire destroyed the docks where the NOAA vessels had moored for decades on Seattle's Lake Union. Since then, the ships have been scattered elsewhere in the area.

The vessels will have immediate access to the ocean, rather than having to run 18 to 24 hours from Seattle through the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the Pacific -- which can add up when daily costs are $20,000 to $50,000, Hatfield Marine Science Center Director George Boehlert told the newspaper.

NOAA's corps is one of the seven U.S. uniformed services.