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FLIP, Floating Instrument Platform

FLIP, short for Floating Instrument Platform, is a 355-foot (108-meter) spoon-shaped buoy. As a buoy, or float, FLIP needs another ship to pull it to a research site. Once in place, FLIP flips. The long tube-like end, or spoon handle, has special tanks, called ballast tanks. These tanks are flooded with 700 tons of seawater, causing them to sink. As this end of FLIP sinks, the other end, kept afloat with air tanks, rises out of the water. Crew members and scientists, on board while FLIP flips, simply step up onto the walls as the walls become decks. In just 20 minutes, FLIP is in a straight up-and-down, or vertical, position, with 300 feet (91 meters) of the ship underwater and 55 feet (17 meters) out of water.

For FLIP to flip back to a horizontal position, air compressed into eight tanks is used to push the seawater out of the ballast tanks. The submerged end of FLIP rises until the buoy is one again level with the water.

Scientific instruments are built sideways into the walls. As FLIP flips, so do the instruments. That means they will be in a normal, usable position when FLIP becomes vertical. Most rooms on FLIP have two doors. One to use when FLIP is horizontal, and one to use when FLIP is vertical. Things like bunk beds, toilets and stoves are built on swivels and gimbals, so they will turn along with FLIP. Other things that would not rotate so well, like sinks, are built both horizontally and vertically in each room.

Two scientists designed and built FLIP in 1962. In a vertical position, FLIP is much more stable. Normal ships float on top of the water, going up and down with the rolling waves. This up-and-down motion can interfere with scientists' experiments. Since FLIP has 300 feet underwater, it does not move so much with the waves. A 30-foot (9-meter) wave will only make FLIP move up or down three feet (1 meter).

FLIP has enough room to house five crew members and 11 researchers at a time. FLIP can stay in position for up to 30 days. If supplies are replenished, stays can be up to 45 days. FLIP is owned by the Office of Naval Research and is operated by the Marine Physical Laboratory of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.



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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:46:25 ZULU