It has studied underwater volcanoes, explored deep-ocean trenches and tracked harmful algal blooms over 25 years. Now, after a year of multi-million dollar repairs and upgrades, a University of Washington research boat is about to get back to work.
The Thomas Thompson, or Tommy Thompson as it's lovingly called in honor of the man who credited for starting the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington, is now smarter than the human brain.
"This can read the currents and the wind and the waves, and it can tell the ship 'you're going to start doing this, we need to do this with the thrusters,' whereas the human waits 'til it happens," Doug Russell said.
Russell manages all the ships at the University of Washington. The Tommy Thompson was only expected to last a quarter-century, but it's $34 million upgrades will keep it afloat for another 25 years.
Take the engine room, which has the power of a dozen NASCAR race cars.
"So we have plenty of power," Russell said. "The ship does 17 knots. But now it's new. It's cleaner. It's more efficient."
Before the renovations, the parts were so old that when they broke, crews couldn't find replacements.
"We can show the ocean bottom over there. We can show what the weather's doing outside because we have met (meteorological) sensors. We can show you what the currents are doing at different depths under the ship. We can tell you what's going on in the salt water column, the temperatures, the density, the transmissivity of it is," Russell said.