RV Thomas G. Thompson (T-AGOR-23)

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Thomas G. Thompson, Fremantle, 2019 (03).jpg
Thomas G. Thompson in Fremantle, Australia
United States
NameThomas G. Thompson
NamesakeThomas Thompson, Oceanographer
OperatorUniversity of Washington
BuilderHalter Marine Inc.
Cost$20.9 million
Laid downMarch 29, 1989
LaunchedJuly 27, 1990
CompletedJuly 8, 1991
HomeportSeattle, Washington
General characteristics
Tonnage3,095 gross tons
Displacement2,155 tons light; 3,051 full load
Length274 ft (84 m)
Beam52.5 ft (16.0 m)
Draft19 ft (5.8 m)
Propulsiondiesel-electric, two 3,000hp z-drives
Speed12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Complement23 civilian mariners, up to 36 scientists

R/V Thomas G. Thompson (AGOR-23), an oceanographic research vessel and lead ship of her class, is owned by the United States Office of Naval Research and operated under a bareboat charterparty agreement by the University of Washington as part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet.

Construction and characteristics[edit]

The Navy issued bid solicitations to the shipbuilding industry for a new oceanographic ship on May 27, 1987.[1] Halter Marine, Inc. won the contract for the construction of Thomas G. Thompson in June 1988. Her original contract price was $20.9 million. She was built in Moss Point, Mississippi.[2] Her keel was laid down on March 29, 1989, and she was launched on July 27, 1990. Thomas G. Thompson was christened by Dr. Dora Henry, Oceanography Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington.[3] The ship was completed and delivered to the Office of Naval Research on July 8, 1991.[4][5][6]

Thomas G. Thompson is 274 feet (84 m) long, with a beam of 52.5 feet (16.0 m) and a full-load draft of 19 feet (5.8 m).[7] The hull is of welded steel plate construction. She displaces 3,051 long tons at full load.[6] Her gross tonnage is calculated at 3,095 and her net tonnage is 928. She is classed by the American Bureau of Shipping.[8]

She has a cruising speed of 12 knots and a maximum speed of 15 knots.[9] She has six diesel generators, three 1,500 kW and three 750 kW, which provide electrical and propulsion power to the ship. The generators, in turn, power two 3,000 hp DC electric motors which provide the ship's main propulsion. The DC motors power two 360-degree azimuth z-drives with four-bladed fixed-pitch propellers. The ship also has a 360-degree azimuth Tees White Gill water jet bow thruster driven by a separate 1,100 hp DC motor.[10] Controls are installed to integrate the z-drives and bow thruster into a dynamic positioning system. Engineers can select fuel-efficient combinations of generators to power the ship whether she is towing an instrument at 1 knot, transiting at 15 knots, or anywhere in between.[11] Her fuel tanks can hold up to 280,000 US gallons (1,100,000 L) giving her an unrefueled range of 12,000 miles at 15 knots.[12][9]

Thomas G. Thompson normally sails with 21 civilian officers and crew, 2 marine technicians, and up to 36 scientists.[13] The crew is unionized, represented by the Inland Boatmen's Union of the Pacific.[14]

To support her research activities she has 4,000 square feet of wet and dry laboratory space, multi-beam mapping sonar and other sensors, and a number of cranes and winches to lower and tow various instruments. The A-frame on her stern, the largest crane aboard, is rated for a 15-ton static load.[10]

The University of Washington won the right to operate Thomas G. Thompson through a competitive bidding process. Invitations to bid were issued on June 5, 1987.[1] Among the qualifications for bidders specified by the Office of Naval Research was the return of an earlier generation AGOR-3 class oceanographic vessel that the Navy could retire when the new ship was delivered. As a practical matter, this limited bidding to the University of Washington, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University. The Office of Naval Research announced in November 1987 that it had selected the University of Washington to operate the then unnamed AGOR-23.[15] Contacts were signed with the Navy in June 1988.[16]

The ship is named for Thomas Gordon Thompson, who founded the University of Washington's Oceanographic Laboratories in 1930. The ship is designated by the Navy as an AGOR or "Auxiliary General-purpose Oceanographic Research" ship. She is the second research vessel named after Dr. Thompson. The first, USNS Thomas G. Thompson (T-AGOR-9), also operated by the University of Washington, was launched in 1963.[17]

Sister ships[edit]

Thomas G. Thompson is the lead ship in her class which also includes RV Roger Revelle (AGOR-24), operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, RV Atlantis (AGOR-25), operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and NOAAS Ronald H. Brown (R 104), operated by NOAA. The first three are owned by the US Navy while the last ship is a NOAA-owned vessel.

Operating history[edit]

RV Thomas G. Thompson in 2018 after her mid-life renovation

Thomas G. Thompson is designed for long-endurance research missions in deep ocean waters and typically spends 260 to 300 days a year at sea.[18] While she has sailed around the Earth on almost every sea and ocean, she has spent the bulk of her career in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.[19] The hull is not ice-strengthened,[9]

While the civilian crew is assigned to the ship permanently, the scientists rotate aboard in support of specific research programs. These have been quite varied, and include global warming,[20] hydrothermal vents,[21] neutrino detection,[22] mapping ocean currents[23] and seamounts,[24] abyssal phytoplankton,[25] underwater volcanic eruptions,[26] algal blooms,[27] and monsoons in the Indian Ocean,[28] among many others.

The vessel also serves as an educational platform for science students of all types from elementary to graduate levels.[29] The University of Washington funds 45 days of ship time for its own students each year.[30] In 2004 this cost just over $1 million .[31]

Thomas G. Thompson's expected service life was 30 years, which would have seen the ship retired in 2021.[32] Instead, on October 16, 2014, the University of Washington issued a request for proposals for a mid-life refit. The contract was awarded to the Vigor Industrial shipyard in Seattle. Her renovation began in June 2016. The project ultimately cost $52 million, jointly funded by the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Washington. The work is expected to extend the vessel's life by 10 to 15 years. During the refit the propulsion system was largely replaced with new diesel generators, overhauled propulsion motors, and new switchboards, control systems, and alarms, electrical cable and pipework was replaced as well as the air-conditioning, refrigeration, sewage, and freshwater systems. New research and navigation instruments were also added.[33] The project was completed in December 2017.


  1. ^ a b Meeting Minutes 9-10 November, 1987 (PDF). UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee. 1987.
  2. ^ "Trinity Marine Group Earns $21 Million Job". Daily Review. October 19, 1988.
  3. ^ "Update on R/V Thomas G. Thompson" (PDF). Research Vessel Operators Committee Newsletter. University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System. 14. August 31, 1990.
  4. ^ Introduction Archived 2008-02-15 at the Wayback Machine, Operations Manual, R/V Thomas G. Thompson, created April 1997, last updated 10 April 2006. Accessed online 30 April 2008.
  5. ^ "Shipyard finishes work on Navy's research ship". Mobile Register. July 21, 1991.
  6. ^ a b "Naval Vessel Register - THOMAS G THOMPSON (AGOR 23)". www.nvr.navy.mil. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  7. ^ "RV Thomas G Thompson". www.ocean.washington.edu. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  8. ^ "USCG PSIX Search Page". cgmix.uscg.mil. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  9. ^ a b c US Academic Research Fleet Vessel Specifications. University National Oceanographic Laboratory System. 2015.
  10. ^ a b "WOLF : WORLD OF LARGE FACILITIES". wolf.zeus.go.kr. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  11. ^ "Jurassic Ocean Crust Magnetic Survey 2011". www3.kutztown.edu. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  12. ^ "Getting UW's R/V Thompson into shipshape". College of the Environment. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  13. ^ "RV Thomas G Thompson". www.ocean.washington.edu. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  15. ^ Advisory Council Meeting (PDF). University-National Oceanographic Laboritory System. 1988. p. 5.
  16. ^ "Replacing the Fleet". Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  17. ^ Redfield, Alfred C.; Barnes, Clifford A.; Richards, Francis A. (1973). Thomas Gordon Thompson (PDF). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Of Sciences. p. 246.
  18. ^ "UW's large research vessel, R/V Thomas G. Thompson, gets a midlife overhaul". UW News. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  19. ^ "B-roll: RV Thomas G. Thompson comes home". UW News. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  20. ^ Wheeler, Timothy B. (March 15, 1992). "Maryland researchers on quest for scientific treasure: clue to global warming". Baltimore Sun.
  21. ^ "Recovered Pacific 'chimneys' teeming with life". Star Tribune. July 26, 1998.
  22. ^ Kresnak, William (December 1, 1993). "Hawaii's sea might tell universe's secrets". Honolulu Advertiser.
  23. ^ Punderson, Eben (June 29, 1993). "UW Research Vessel Makes Port Call Here". Daily Sitka Sentinel.
  24. ^ Chambers, Susan (October 27, 2005). "Black fog hides research vessel". The World.
  25. ^ "NSF Award Search: Award#0532479 - R/V Thomas G. Thompson Ship Operations 2005-2009". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  26. ^ Schmid, Randolph E. (June 9, 2004). "Seattle scientists catch undersea eruption on film". Longview Daily News.
  27. ^ "UW, NOAA deploy ocean robot to monitor harmful algal blooms off Washington coast". UW News. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  28. ^ Losurdo, Major Marnee A. C. (July 19, 2018). "Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters assist with monsoon research". Tampa Bay Times.
  29. ^ Chin, Matthew (September 12, 2000). "Oscar Loyola fifth-grade teacher explores the deep sea". The Californian.
  30. ^ Daily, The. "UW researcher's ship comes in". The Daily of the University of Washington. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  31. ^ Mello, Michael (May 23, 2004). "University works to replace research vessel". Corvallis Gazette-Times.
  32. ^ Federal Oceanographic Fleet Status Report (PDF). Interagency Working Group on Facilities. 2007.
  33. ^ "R/V Thomas G. Thompson Mid-Life Extension". Vigor. Retrieved 2020-08-17.