The U.S. National Science Foundation sponsored a workshop on the “Future of Marine Heat Flow” (OCE-0648146) held in Fall 2007 to discuss recent scientific developments and anticipated technical needs for the next 10-20 years related to collection and interpretation of marine heat flow measurements [Harris et al., 2007]. Workshop participants expressed strong interest in collection and use of new heat flow data to address scientifically important topics including: the thermal evolution of the oceanic crust, lithosphere and Earth; the chemical evolution of the global ocean and regional seas; the geodynamics of plate boundaries and mantle convection; fluid circulation and associated impacts on water-rock interactions, seismicity, tectonics, and magmatism; establishment and maintenance of subseafloor microbial ecosystems; creation of ore, hydrocarbon and gas hydrate deposits; and the exchange of fluids and solutes across continental margins and its impact on the extent and quality of near-shore water and biological resources.
Major impediments to progress in marine heat flow studies discussed at the workshop include a lack of access to instrumentation for researchers using UNOLS vessels, and a historical decline in the number of individuals who have personal experience planning and running such surveys. Of course, these two challenges are closely linked; the development of a U.S. Marine Heat Flow Capability is intended to help overcome both problems. Additional challenges in recent years have included reliance on commercial or non-U.S. sources for heat flow instrumentation, navigation of funding pathways to acquire and maintain instruments, coordinating international ship and instrumentation scheduling priorities, resolving customs and shipping issues, and assuring compatibility of components with standard UNOLS equipment. The U.S. Marine Heat Flow Capability overcomes these challenges by making instrumentation and knowledge available to the U.S. academic community as part of optional UNOLS shipboard instrumentation. The U.S. Marine Heat Flow Capability has been established for an initial five-year period, 2009-14, using an administrative and funding model that emphasizes operational reliability and flexibly, with low operating costs that are covered with mainly through the pool of optional shipboard equipment available on standard UNOLS vessels.