Brazil looks to project scientific power on the Atlantic

Herton Escobar – Science, 8/7/2015

With 8500 kilometers of coastline and hundreds of marine scientists, Brazil has everything a country needs to make a mark in ocean research—everything except a world-class research ship, that is. That’s about to change. At a ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on 23 July, Brazil unveiled its largest and most advanced scientific platform built for the high seas—a $77.5 million research vessel that scientists here hope will take them farther and deeper into the Atlantic Ocean than they have ever ventured.

Brazil is finally ready to start doing “grown-up” ocean science, says Andrei Polejack of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in Brasília. “We are very anxious to put this ship to work and start filling some of the big data gaps that still exist in the South Atlantic Ocean.” But some academics worry that prospecting for mineral resources will dominate research aboard the ship, which was two-thirds funded by Petrobras and Vale, Brazil’s largest oil and mining companies.

Christened the Vital de Oliveira after a 19th century Brazilian Navy hydrographer, the 78-meter-long vessel, equipped with a remotely operated vehicle capable of diving to 4000 meters, can berth 40 scientists for up to a month at sea. That puts it in the same league as the most capable research vessels fielded by the United States and Europe.

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