Print this page

Published: 22 December 2014

Explainer: the RV Investigator’s role in marine science

Toni Moate

We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our deepest oceans, and only 12 per cent of the ocean floor within Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone has so far been mapped.

RV Investigator at sea – it has just been commissioned in Hobart.
RV Investigator at sea – it has just been commissioned in Hobart.
Credit: CSIRO

The reason for this is that we haven’t had access to the technology to get the job done, but things are about to change.

Australia’s new 94-metre $120 million research vessel (RV) Investigator has just been commissioned in Hobart. It’s replacing the RV Southern Surveyor which had been in service for more than 40 years and was decommissioned and sold earlier this year.

With the RV Investigator we will now be able to map the ocean floor to any depth, search for resources, better understand our fisheries, collect weather data 20-kilometre into the atmosphere and much more.

With 40 scientific berths, a range of approximately of 10,000 nautical miles (about 18,520 km) in a single voyage and the extensive list of capabilities, RV Investigator heralds a new era in marine and atmospheric research for Australian scientists and their international collaborators.

The ship is impressive, with about $20 million worth of scientific equipment, capable of enabling biological, oceanographic, geological and atmospheric research.

The magnitude of the change from the RV Southern Surveyor means the farthest reaches of the three major oceans that surround us are no longer impenetrable. In the past, research vessels have travelled from Europe and the US to uncover what’s going on in our own backyard.

Australia’s oceans are estimated to contribute $42 billion annually to our economy through marine industries such as aquaculture, wild fisheries, recreational fishing, and offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction and this is expected to increase to more than $100 billion in 10 years.

RV Investigator is owned by CSIRO and managed by the Marine National Facility, which itself is managed by an independent steering committee. Most importantly it is truly a national facility with sea time available to all Australian marine scientists.

Silent running

CSIRO undertook a rigorous procurement process and Teekay Holdings Australia was awarded the contract to design, build and commission the new ship. It was designed by RALion from the US and Canada, and was built by Sembawang Shipyard in Singapore.

RV Investigator has been specifically designed to an international maritime classification called DNV-Silent-R. Achieving this classification puts RV Investigator in the realms of being one of the quietest vessels in the world.

Radiated ship noise interferes with acoustic signals so by building a quiet ship we will be able to maximise the performance of the equipment to be used to monitor the marine ecosystem, and map the seafloor and sea bed.


The hull shape was designed using computer-based fluid dynamics to ensure any bubbles formed by the hull moving through the water (bubble sweep-down) don’t interfere with the acoustic equipment.

The design and the capability is so impressive that RV Investigator was named as one of the top 13 ship building projects for 2013, by IHS Maritime 360, amid a field of some 2900 projects globally.

So what sort of research will be carried out on-board the RV Investigator?

Biological research capabilities

The oxygen in every second breath you take has been created by phytoplankton through ocean photosynthesis.

RV Investigator is ready to explore the Southern Ocean after months of sea trials.
RV Investigator is ready to explore the Southern Ocean after months of sea trials.
Credit: CSIRO/Max McGuire

The oceans are effectively the world’s lungs, the currents are the veins moving nutrients around and the biological oceanographers are the doctors monitoring blood pressure and overall health.

Marine biologists on RV Investigator will be able to study ocean life, including phytoplankton, sea cucumbers, worms, crabs, jellyfish, squids, sponges and algae as well as commercial fishery species like southern bluefin tuna.

They will also collect samples to better understand the life cycle and ecosystems of marine plants and animals.

Oceanographic research capabilities

Oceanographers seek to understand the dynamics of the ocean and observe changes across seasons and over decades to better understand weather, climate and how changes impact fisheries and other marine life, offshore infrastructure and coastal developments.

To study large ocean processes, scientists deploy moorings on the ocean’s surface and below the waves. These moorings enable scientists to put scientific equipment into the ocean to continuously collect data from sensors over a period of one to two years.

On board RV Investigator, oceanographers will be able to collect ocean data to 7000 m, using various CTD instruments, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth.

This will be our first chance to sample deep ocean currents, which are drivers of food and nutrients around our planet. It enables oceanographers to calculate the density of sea water, which just like the density of air in our atmosphere, drives ocean circulation.

CTD data have allowed scientists to discover the southward movement of the East Australian Current (EAC) and, as the EAC moves south, ecosystems are changing, bringing warmer water species to the seas around Tasmania.

Any changes in temperatures to our oceans in turn affect our fisheries, weather patterns and rainfall systems.

Geoscience research capabilities

Attached to the ship’s hull is a steel housing called a gondola which contains advanced sonar technology.

Acoustic signals are emitted in a beam 30 km wide in water depths to 11.5 km to reveal, in 3D, seafloor features such as deep sea canyons and mountains.

Creating maps of the sea floor helps us understand ecosystems and discover canyons, mountains, ancient river systems and other geological features.

RV Investigator has sophisticated equipment to probe the make-up of the seabed and up to 100m into the seabed to reveal the geological composition. The onboard gravity meter will allow researchers to study large gravity anomalies, which in turn is able to reveal geological features and resources.

A range of sea floor sampling equipment can be used on board the ship. The key new capability is the ability of scientists to collect core samples up to 24 m long, at ocean depths of up to 7000 m.

Atmospheric and meteorological research capabilities

RV Investigator is the first Australian research vessel with laboratories dedicated to analysing the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere. Only a few research vessels around the world are fitted with weather radars.

The radar will gather data from clouds towering up to 20 km above the tropical ocean to cold ice storms in the Antarctic, in a 150 km radius from the ship.

The 1.75 tonne C-band Doppler weather radar sends and receives 800 microwave pulses per second. It collects information about the number, size, shape and movement of rain, hail, ice and snow.

It will be our first opportunity to collect data about the atmosphere above the oceans around Australia.

The mission begins next year

RV Investigator’s maiden voyage in March 2015 will continue to contribute to the global understanding of the Southern Ocean which plays a dominant role in the movement of heat throughout the world’s oceans as it moderates the Earth’s weather, its variability and rate of change.

The voyage will redeploy the Integrated Marine Observing System’s Southern Ocean Time Series and Southern Ocean Flux Station moorings, re-establishing essential monitoring infrastructure providing time series measurements critical for our understanding of the Southern Ocean.

In a time of global interest in the Southern Ocean, this voyage will reinforce Australia’s research investment in the region, and will help us better understand this vast ocean’s influence on weather and rainfall in Australia and globally.

Toni Moate is Deputy Chief, Science Operations of the CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research Business Unit, and Executive Director of the Future Research Vessel Project. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Published: 27 January 2015

Can the property development industry deliver climate-ready cities?

Eddo Coiacetto

Developers often cop criticism for being environmental vandals who’d do anything in the name of profit. But the industry is complex, ranging from one-off ‘mum and dad’ investors to global corporations. One thing they all have in common is that what they produce – residential and commercial developments – will need to perform in future environments that may call into question how or why the structures were built in the first place.

Gold Coast skyline, 2012: Coastal development in south-east Queensland may be impacted by more powerful storm surges and sea-level rise.
Gold Coast skyline, 2012: Coastal development in south-east Queensland may be impacted by more powerful storm surges and sea-level rise.
Credit: Mike R under CC BY-SA 2.0

There is no ‘typical’ property developer. Private property development is a complex, high-risk industry in which the developer is the entity, person or institution that manages the risks of development.

Unlike builders, developers do not have to be qualified, accredited or registered. While some may come from land-related professions and trades, others may be from unrelated fields, such as mining. Firms can be created specifically for a development project, then dissolve on project completion.

Can an individual developer deliver climate-ready developments? To an extent, some already do. The question though, is whether the entire collective of developers responsible for building cities – the development industry – can do it.

The question is important because developers play a key role in shaping cities.1 Developments contribute to climate change because they impact on energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. New buildings and houses also affect the degree of exposure of users and residents to heatwaves, flooding and other extreme weather events. The extent to which they do depends on factors like:

  1. location

  2. site features

  3. building features, and

  4. private governance arrangements, such as covenants, easements and body corporate rules that developers put it place for users.

Regulation seeks to influence the above characteristics. But land use planning has had little traditionally to say about private governance arrangements. And building standards are relatively unproblematic and acceptable to developers: there is even a significant degree of industry self-regulation via green rating schemes, for example.

Importantly, controlling the location of developments, and to a degree their design, is politically charged, since it profoundly impacts property values and development feasibility.

At this point, it’s worth defining what a ‘climate-ready’ development industry would look like. It would be one that:

  1. has the capacity to, and which can change to, deliver – in both the short and longer-term – products that reduce or minimise users’ exposure to climate hazards, and products that contribute to reducing energy use and GHGs; and

  2. is at the same time resilient to, and has the capacity to deal with, climate change consequences, both direct and indirect.2

Developers’ exposure to the risks of climate change is limited because their commitment to a project is short – from several months to, at most, a couple of decades – compared to the lifetime of that development and the timeframes of predicted climate change hazards, such as sea-level rise.

Further, developers differ in their capacity and willingness to respond to the risks of climate change. They include builders, solicitors, ‘mum and dad’ developers, large diversified global corporations, mining companies, financial institutions and superannuation companies. They may be individuals or corporations, and may also be one-time operators, occasional developers, or professionals. Some developer ‘entities’ merely manage a development project for a fee while passing the risk of development on to equity investors, who may be ordinary people trying to save for their retirement.

Each entity has a different way of operating and some have more power than others to shape their operating environment. That environment is made up of diverse opportunities and risks – such as market risks, site risks, funding risk and planning risk. Different developers respond to the same stimuli (risk or opportunity) in different, even opposite, ways to other developers.

The problem therefore is that there can be no generic industry-wide response to climate change or to a climate -related regulation/policy. In other words, a given policy will not work with all developers.

Take land-use zoning to control the location of development, for example. Some developers only seek out land that is zoned for what they want to use the land for. However, other developers, perhaps with more time or power on their side, search only for land that is not zoned and then seek to rezone it because landowners want too much for zoned land.

As mentioned, the climate risks are not the same for all developers. A developer specialising in marina developments in North Queensland may be exposed to sea-level rise, storm surge and cyclonic activity; whereas one specialising in retirement units in central Queensland may be exposed to bushfires, drought, heat stress and inland flooding.

This discussion has so far focused only on the development industry. But climate-ready development necessitates a whole-of-sector approach, including landowners, financiers, builders and suppliers, engineers, consultants, and designers.

The role of finance is central and critical because it is this capital that is placed at risk in a development.

Policy makers can support the development industry’s adaptation to climate change by providing timely, accessible information.3

Many government departments are the custodians (and originators) of substantial data banks, yet access is often difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Strategies to improve transparency and communication of government data – such as long-term forecasts of storm surge levels – would go a long way to improving development appraisals. The easier the access to information, the more informed the eventual decision: for example, developers might avoid locations and sites at serious risk from climate change impacts.

So, while the outlook for the development industry (and its products) may sound grim, we cannot afford be pessimistic, because climate change presents an unprecedented threat. The solution thus requires an unprecedented level of consistent and concerted action by all players in the property and financial sectors, including all levels of government.

Associate Professor Eddo Coiacetto from Griffith School of the Environment, Griffith University, is interested in improving the effectiveness planning practice by basing it on a sounder understanding of the realities of urban development. Eddo is one of 31 experts who’ve contributed to the edited collection, Responding to Climate Change, published by CSIRO Publishing.

1 Squires G & Heurkens E (2015) International Approaches to Real Estate Development. Abingdon: Routledge.
2 Coiacetto E (forthcoming) Climate change governance in private real estate development: essential concepts about development for feasible research, regulation and governance. In JR Knieling (Ed.) Climate Change Governance: Theory, Concepts and Praxis in Cities and Regions. Wiley.
3 Coiacetto E, Shearer H, Dodson J, Taygfeld P & Banhalmi-Zakar Z (2014 ) One man's meat is another man's poison: why 'who' the developer is matters in climate change adaptation in the development industry. In P Burton (Ed.) Responding to Climate Change: Lessons from an Australian Hotspot. CSIRO Publishing.

ECOS Archive

Welcome to the ECOS Archive site which brings together 40 years of sustainability articles from 1974-2014.

For more recent ECOS articles visit the blog. You can also sign up to the email alert or RSS feed