URI research vessel Endeavor to travel to Haiti for scientific investigation, humanitarian mission

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – February 17, 2010 – The University of Rhode Island research vessel Endeavor will leave for Haiti on Feb. 17 on a two-fold mission – to study the seafloor in Haitian waters to find geologic evidence of the recent earthquake and to deliver humanitarian supplies procured by Plan USA.

The trip was initiated by a team of geoscientists at Columbia University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Missouri, and the University of California at Santa Barbara who received funding through the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research program to study the marine geology of the region. Because the Endeavor and its crew were immediately available, the ship was selected to undertake the expedition.

Dennis Nixon, associate dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, initiated the humanitarian mission. Plan USA, the Warwick, Rhode Island-based non-profit that supports children in developing nations and which has been active in Haiti for 37 years, purchased dozens of large tents that were placed in a cargo container aboard the Endeavor. The tents will serve as transitional classrooms and provide safe zones for children in camps in the affected areas.

“Since the ship is going there anyway, I felt it was the least we could do to deliver whatever aid we could provide,” said Nixon. “And Plan USA was happy to take the lead in collecting the supplies that would be of greatest use to children in Haiti.”

Audrey Bracey Deegan, interim president and chief executive officer of Plan USA, thanked URI and the crew of the Endeavor for their critical support in helping transport the transitional shelters. “Since the earthquake, Haiti’s children have consistently expressed to us that education should be our top priority,” she said. “They say being back in school will create a much-needed sense of security and stability. And it also means that parents can focus on rebuilding their lives without fearing for their children’s safety. We know from our experiences after the 2004 tsunami that immediately resuming schooling is a key component for any disaster-recovery process.”

When the ship arrives in Haiti, it will offload the tents before beginning its scientific investigation.

“The last minute logistics of this expedition were daunting,” said Sam DeBow, a former NOAA rear admiral who now serves as URI’s marine superintendent in charge of the operations of the Endeavor. “The main port infrastructure in Port-au-Prince is destroyed, so it has been a challenge figuring out how to offload our humanitarian supplies. But we felt it was vital that we do whatever we could to aid the people of Haiti.”

“The Graduate School of Oceanography is very pleased that the Endeavor is participating in the National Science Foundation supported survey work and that this project has provided an excellent opportunity to bring relief supplies to this devastated region,” said GSO Dean David Farmer. “Associate Dean Dennis Nixon, Marine Superintendent Sam De Bow, and many staff at GSO are to be congratulated on pulling together this challenging plan.”

Using multibeam and sidescan sonar equipment, the scientists plan to create a map of the faults and related geologic structures along the coast of Haiti near where the January 12 earthquake occurred.

According to their research proposal, “the marine survey is urgent, not only because civic authorities now require advice from earthquake experts, but also because the survey needs to capture detailed seafloor features related to rupture and mass wasting… All these features are short-lived in the energetic shallow-water environment of the shelf.”

The ship was scheduled to depart the dock at the URI Bay Campus at 2 p.m. on Feb. 17 and arrive in Port Everglades, Fla., on Feb. 23 to pick up the scientists and their equipment. It will continue on to Haiti, arriving on Feb. 27, whereupon it will conduct the scientific mapping for 14 days before returning to Port Everglades.

Where is the Endeavor Now? Follow the Endeavor online via its on board navigation system.

View some additional coverage of the ship’s send-off.