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Getting into shipshape condition

For 25 years, the UW’s Thomas G. Thompson has conducted research in nearly every ocean on Earth. This year, the ship is being upgraded to extend its life for another quarter century.

UW discovers

Thomas Thompson ship with Seattle skyline

The Thomas G. Thompson, commonly called “Tommy Thompson,” makes the UW one of the few places where undergraduates can get hands-on field experience aboard a world-class research ship. Owned by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research and operated by the UW, the Thompson is one of three such U.S.-based research vessels, built in the early 1990s, that scientists from across the country can use to study marine issues around the world.

Thomas Thompson ship waiting to cross canal

The 274-foot Thompson can travel 12,000 miles for up to 60 days on the open sea, but its latest journey was a little closer to home at the UW Seattle.

Thomas Thompson ship under draw bridge

Embarking on a major upgrade, the Thompson recently sailed from its dock at the College of the Environment’s School of Oceanography to the Vigor Marine shipyard in south Seattle.

rusty anchor

It’s time for the vessel’s midlife refit, which will extend the life of the Thompson for another quarter-century or so.

engine of Thomas Thompson ship

Upgrading a vessel this large (274 feet long, or about three-quarters of the length of a football field) is no small task. It will take nearly a year — and many hours of welding — to replace all six diesel engines, add modern navigation and control systems, and upgrade the plumbing, heating and ventilation.

In its many years at sea, the Thompson has its share of adventures—including some unexpected rescue operations on the open ocean.

In its many years at sea, the Thompson has its share of adventures—including some unexpected rescue operations on the open ocean.

Thomas Thompson ship in water

Just days before the refit, the Thompson was still hard at work for science. A research team from UW and NOAA traveled onboard to Washington’s Pacific Coast. There, they deployed a marine robot to help provide advanced warning of harmful algal blooms that can contaminate shellfish on local beaches, causing anyone who eats them to become ill.

 The Thompson will be back in service by mid-2017, and not a moment too soon: it’s already reserved for research trips that summer.

The Thompson will be back in service by mid-2017, and not a moment too soon: it’s already reserved for research trips that summer.