UW News

February 1, 2018

UW’s large research vessel, R/V Thomas G. Thompson, gets back to work

UW News

After an “extreme makeover” that went from stem to stern on five decks of the ship, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson is ready to get back to work exploring the world’s oceans.

The University of Washington’s School of Oceanography, part of the College of the Environment, operates the 274-foot ship, which arrived on campus in 1991. In summer 2016, with funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and the UW, the vessel headed to a Seattle shipyard for an 18-month midlife refit that will extend its life for another quarter century.

“The Tommy Thompson has a rich history of science and exploration, and now she’s better equipped than ever to travel the world’s oceans and help students and scientists make new discoveries,” said Virginia (Ginger) Armbrust, professor and chair of the UW School of Oceanography.

Upgrades to the ship include:

  • New propulsion plant with four diesel generators, new switchboards, new propulsion drives, new controls and a new alarm and monitoring system
  • New navigation and control systems on the ship’s bridge
  • Adding a catwalk outside the bridge to facilitate maintenance
  • More than 6 miles of new cabling and thousands of feet of new piping
  • New air conditioning and refrigeration systems, higher-capacity desalination machine and a quieter exhaust system
  • Upgrading and installing a new bottom-mapping sonar
  • New fiber-optic network for faster data transmission
  • New instrument well to deploy instruments from the ship and more electrical power for supporting remotely operated vehicles
  • A complete update of the science team’s computer lab and new fume hoods in the lab spaces

The ship will leave Seattle on Monday, Feb. 5, for an expedition in New Zealand led by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The vessel is fully booked with research cruises and likely won’t be back in Seattle for more than a year.

Douglas Russell, the UW’s manager of marine operations, has overseen much of the project work, which was done by Vigor Marine LLC at its Seattle shipyard.

“After all these months, I can hardly wait to see it get out and go to the South Pacific,” he said.

The R/V Thompson is the first of three university-based research vessels, all owned by the Office of Naval Research and part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet, to get a similar midlife upgrade. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s vessel, the R/V Roger Revelle, will be next, followed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s R/V Atlantis.


For more information, contact Russell at dgruss@uw.edu or 206-543-5062. Find older photos of the vessel, and more photos of the construction and finished ship.