The French oceanographic research vessels and services of the CNRS, IFREMER, IPEV and IRD together form a Large Research Infrastructure Flotte océanographique française (FOF) created in 2008.
The ships and underwater vehicles of the FOF provide access to all the oceans and seas across the globe, except the polar areas. The coastal ships and station vessels provide continuous coverage of the coastal and near-shore areas. The FOF is at the forefront of the world stage, through the quality of the publications that results from oceanographic cruises, the performance of its ships, vehicles and equipment and the significant progress in innovative sectors such as underwater systems and deep-sea sediment cores.
Composition and missions of the French Oceanographic Fleet
The FOF includes all the French marine facilities that belong to the four founding institutes. The FOF includes:
- six regional or global research vessels (R/Vs Marion Dufresne, Pourquoi pas?, L’Atalante, Thalassa, Antea and Alis) that can host oceanographic cruises in all the oceans of the globe. From 30 to 120 m long, they can carry out bathymetric surveys of the deep sea, deploy deep underwater systems for sampling, set out moorings, sample the water column, take underway measurements (meteorology, current readings, etc.)
- Underwater vehicles, unique in Europe, such as the autonomous vehicle Nautile or the remotely operated vehicle Victor 6000 that can dive down to 6000 m with towed sonar, multi-beam seismic instruments and sampling tools;
- Five coastal ships (R/Vs L’Europe, Thalia, Côtes de la Manche, Tethys II and Haliotis) used in the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea for many, diverse scientific cruises along the coast, in the open sea or anywhere between.
- Seven small boats that can handle day outings or trips of up to 3 days for the newest of the fleet and distributed across the mainland French seaboard.
The fleet is used mainly to carry out scientific research and observation in all the domains of oceanography: marine geosciences, physical and biological oceanography, biogeochemistry, and ocean chemistry, paleoclimatology, marine biodiversity, etc.
It also fulfils the needs for monitoring, assessment, or public service missions for government agencies addressing hydrography, coastal environment, fishery resources, EEZ delimitation, seismic, volcanic and submarine landslide hazards.
The FOF is also solicited for research-industry collaborations with the socio-economic sector, particularly for mineral and energy resources and participates in research training in relation with universities.
A significant step in the integration of French marine facilities was taken in March 2011 with the creation of the French Oceanographic Fleet with the joint collaboration of the CNRS, IFREMER, IPEV and IRD. The FOF was created for a coordinated management of the joint marine facilities, with priority given to the scientific community to reach three goals:
- Design and implement integrated ship and vehicle planning open to national calls for tender (open sea and coastal ships),
- Plan, define and coordinate fleet modernisation by taking into account the needs of the national public operators that are not members of the joint service unit (e.g. TAAF, French Navy),
- Coordinate the investment planning.
The multi-year programming of the FOF is handled by two commissions: the National Open-Sea Fleet (Commission Nationale de la Flotte Hauturière — CNFH) and the National Coastal Fleet Commission (Commission Nationale de la flotte CôtièreCNFC): these commissions rank the research cruise applications according to their quality.
The COSS, the Strategic and Scientific Guidance Board of the FOF, makes proposals and issues opinions with regard to strategy for the use, functioning and modernisation of the fleet.
The FOF has an executive committee (Codir) that makes the decisions and a director that implements the decisions approved by the committee and the institutes of its members. The executive committee is composed of representatives from its four founding members and includes representatives from the two national cruise planning commissions (CNFH and CNFC), the president of the COSS and the head of the FOF.