Alpha Delphini is inaugurated on São Paulo coast | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Built entirely in Brazil, the oceanographic vessel complements the Alpha Crucis and will be focused on research in coastal areas (Edu Cesar/Agência FAPESP)

Alpha Delphini is inaugurated on São Paulo coast

September 04, 2013

By Elton Alisson, Santos

Agência FAPESP – The Alpha Delphini was officially inaugurated on August 12 at the Port of Santos on São Paulo’s coast. Present at the christening were Celso Lafer, FAPESP president, and João Grandino Rodas, Chancellor of Universidade de São Paulo (USP), among other authorities, in addition to researchers from the USP’s Oceanography Institute (IO).

Built entirely in Brazil, the ship is part of the project submitted to FAPESP by the IO under the auspices of the Multiuser Equipment Program (EMU). The ship was built with the objective of increasing the state’s capacity for oceanographic research.

Another IO initiative in the same vein was the acquisition of the Alpha Crucis oceanographic ship, inaugurated in May 2012; it has now made seven voyages, including tests and research.

“Alpha Delphini complements the Alpha Crucis and fills a gap we had since the interruption of operations of the Professor W. Besnard because it has equivalent autonomy but at a lower cost and with a greater range of maritime maneuvers,” commented Michel Michaelovitch de Mahiques, the director of IO-USP, during the christening.

The grounding of the Professor W. Besnard – utilized from 1967 to 2008, when it caught fire and was rendered unfit for research – drastically limited the oceanographic studies in São Paulo State.

To overcome this setback, researchers at IO-USP submitted proposals for acquisition of the Alpha Crucis and Alpha Delphini to FAPESP simultaneously because they were planned to be complementary vessels.

“When USP professors presented the proposal to FAPESP for construction of the Alpha Crucis and the Alpha Delphini, the Foundation immediately sought to support the two projects because we understood their importance for advancing Oceanography in São Paulo State,” said Lafer.

At the inauguration at the Port of Santos, the Alpha Delphini, the Alpha Crucis and the Professor W. Besnard were anchored side by side at warehouse number 8.

Mahiques explained that the Alpha Delphini has intermediate autonomy and research capacity among the small vessels and oceanographic ships and covers the continental platform area - which begins from the coastline and reaches 200 meters in depth.

The ship’s total cost was R$ 6 million. FAPESP’s Multiuser Equipment Program earmarked R$ 4.4 million for construction of the ship. The remainder – motors and a series of scientific equipment – was funded with IO-USP resources.

The ship’s navigation autonomy is 10 to 15 days, depending on the number of crew, and can operate within a range of 200 nautical miles from the coast.

National project

According to Rolf Roland Weber, a retired IO-USP professor and the project coordinator, some of the factors that led to the choice of the Northeast shipyard, despite that the company did not have experience with ships for oceanographic research, were that it has been around for 42 years, builds ships for Petrobras, has rendered many services for the Brazilian Navy and has a team of engineers with degrees from the best institutions in the country.

“We conducted a series of meetings with representatives of the company, for which we invited all IO-USP professors to suggest adaptations and modifications to the basic project for the ship in order to meet the oceanographic research needs,” said Weber.

“Construction of the Alpha Delphini will provide Inace the basis for developing oceanographic ship projects with greater speed and lower cost,” he evaluates.

According to the researcher, the Alpha Delphini took one year and seven months to build and has more than 10,000 components. “The ship project and the majority of the parts were made in Brazil,” said José Gustavo Imakawa, professor at IO-USP, and who was present at the inauguration.

Imakawa is part of a ship management committee at the institution, which, in addition to the Alpha Crucis and Alpha Delphini, has two other small research ships – Albacora and Velliger 2 – anchored at its coastal learning and research bases in Cananéia and Ubatuba on the São Paulo Coast, where both ships will be replaced.

Last week, the team members held a meeting to begin scheduling voyages of the Alpha Delphini. The researchers estimate that demand for utilization of the Alpha Delphini will be greater than that of the Alpha Crucis, among other factors, because it has a lower cost. “We estimate that the Alpha Crucis will be embark less but for longer voyages,” states Mahiques.

According to the researcher, as forecast in the EMU program, any university, including private institutions, can request the ship. However the regulations give priority in certain cases, such as FAPESP funded projects and use by IO-USP researchers. Next, there is a preference for projects from two São Paulo State universities – Unesp and Unicamp.

The first expedition

Before arriving in São Paulo in early August, the Alpha Delphini had its first scientific expedition from July 16 to 29 off the Pernambuco state coast, between the island of Itamaracá and the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, passing through the Recife coastal zone.

The expedition is part of Thematic Project held by IO-USP researchers in partnership with the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE) and with participation from the National Research Agency in France under the auspices of an agreement between FAPESP and the Pernambuco State Research Foundation (Facepe).

The objective of the expedition was to evaluate the role of oceanic and coastal regions in Pernambuco as carbon absorbers or releasers and to identify which zones act one way or the other.

As a region of bifurcation of the marine current that comes from Africa, with part of the water flowing to the north and the other to the south of Brazil, the oceanic zone in Pernambuco has always been poorly understood, according to Elisabete de Santis Braga, IO-USP professor and project coordinator.

The Pernambuco coastal region has registered an increase in carbon emissions both from organic and inorganic sources due to factors such as unplanned human occupation.

“More than 27 UFPE master’s and doctoral students and researchers embarked during the expedition. Many students had never entered a ship,” explained Braga.

To obtain information on carbon transport to Pernambuco’s oceanic and coastal regions, the participating researchers in the first expedition collected samples of water and organisms such as phytoplankton to gauge the fertility of the water and the potential it has to produce first-level organisms in the food chain.

The researchers had the assistance of a smaller vessel in Fernando de Noronha – where there are coral reefs – and a laboratory on land at UFPE for the storage of samples and collected materials.

“This was a multidisciplinary project involving fields like Geology, Biology, Chemistry and Physics,” said Braga. “The opportunity to have an oceanographic ship travel from Fortaleza to Pernambuco and to conduct the ship’s first scientific expedition in the region was a happy coincidence,” affirmed Braga.

According to the researcher, under the initial plan the ship would make a test voyage on the coast of Fortaleza near the Inace shipyard and would travel to São Paulo, where it would be christened.

The participating researchers in the project under the auspices of the FAPESP agreement with Facepe had planned the expedition but had a series of difficulties finding an oceanographic vessel that could be rented for the expedition. During this time, the Alpha Delphini was finalized.

“In addition to research, the expedition made possible an exchange of experiences between researchers in the Southeast and Northeast, testing equipment and identifying questions that eventually did not completely meet the research needs,” he said.

The Alpha Delphini will undergo an inspection and adjustments in the next few days and will be ready for new expeditions in September. The ship has hydraulic hooks to drag plankton nets and has survey equipment such as CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth).

When it is not out on expeditions, the ship will be anchored at warehouse number 8 in the Port of Santos. The researchers plan to make the ship available to public visitation when not deployed for research.

“With this fleet of ships for research, USP has become one of the best equipped institutions for oceanographic research, not only in Brazil, but worldwide. Now all we need is pathways and equipment for this purpose,” commented Mahiques.

 

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