Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

East Carolina University-led Oceanography Team Tests New Research Vessel Off NC Coast

February 18, 2016

By Lacey L. Gray
Director of Marketing and Communications
Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences

Oregon Inlet
Ship time on a global-class research vessel usually costs more than $50,000 per day, but a team of scientists from North Carolina will embark on a 10-day research expedition this March free-of-charge. The cruise is being conducted to evaluate the suitability and capability of a newly commissioned oceanographic research vessel.

The team is led by Dr. D. Reide Corbett, ECU professor of geological sciences, senior scientist at ECU's Institute for Coastal Science and Policy and co-program head at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute.

"This is a great opportunity for our NC team," said Corbett. "Ship time is one of the more expensive aspects of oceanographic research. We are thrilled to be chosen to use and evaluate this brand new state-of-the-art research platform."

The R/V Neil Armstrong, named for the astronaut, is owned by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System and operated by The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The ship is meant to serve the academic community's need for a general-purpose research vessel on the east coast of the United States.

While onboard, the team will collect data off the Cape Hatteras continental margin, an area that extends approximately 20 miles from the coast to where the continental shelf drops from 70 meters (200 ft.) to 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 ft.) in depth. Research will be conducted between depths of 10 meters, just outside of the Oregon Inlet, and up to 3,000 meters deep on the east side of the Gulf Stream, 40-50 miles offshore.

"The ocean and seabed offshore of North Carolina is complex, and surprisingly, has not been well mapped and examined," said team member Dr. J.P. Walsh, associate professor in ECU's Department of Geological Sciences. "This cruise provides an excellent opportunity for us to study seafloor and water-column processes in this important area just off our shoreline."

Team members also include ECU associate professor Dr. Sid Mitra; ECU graduate students Beau Benfield, Ian Conery, Brian Gallagher, Ryan Gibbons, and Caroline Webb; UNC CSI scientist Mike Muglia; UNC CSI technicians Keith Garmire and Trip Taylor; and UNC CSI outreach specialist John McCord. The NC group will collaborate with other scientists aboard the vessel to accomplish a variety of research goals.

Corbett believes his proposal was chosen because of the interdisciplinary make-up of the team and their research experience. The researchers will use a wide array of equipment and conduct many over-the-side operations.

"This cruise is needed to test the ship's scientific capability, and we will do just that," said Corbett. "It will also provide us the opportunity to collect some new data. It's a win-win situation!"

For additional information about the research vessel Neil Armstrong and WHOI, visit