Scientists have a new tool to help them peek into the secrets of the Bay and the creatures that live in it. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science officially introduced its new research vessel, the Rachel Carson, in November to serve as the flagship of its research fleet.

The 81-foot, $4.6 million vessel is a state-of-the-art research platform specifically tailored to the needs of Chesapeake Bay scientists. Designed from the ground up, Rachel Carson is large enough to transport research teams up and down the Bay's entire 184-mile length, yet runs shallow enough to allow scientists access to the smallest of critical Bay tributaries.

"Understanding how the Chesapeake Bay functions and monitoring its health are critical to accelerating the restoration of our state's greatest resource," said UMCES President Donald Boesch. "The more we understand about the intricate workings of this complex ecosystem, the better management advice our scientists can provide policy makers guiding the Bay cleanup effort."

The craft is powered by twin 1,200 horsepower diesel engines paired with jet outdrives that allow the Rachel Carson to move at a speedy 24 knots. A state-of-the-art dynamic positioning system allows the vessel to "hover" motionless over one spot regardless of wind and current. A trio of powerful winches allows scientists to launch and retrieve multiple buoys and sampling devices over the side or stern. Built-in electronic sensors will continuously measure the Bay's water quality, biology and currents whether under way or on station.

The vessel will begin service in early 2009 and be stationed at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons.

The Rachel Carson is named in honor of the world-renowned marine biologist and nature writer. Although a native of Pennsylvania, she wrote her most influential books, including "Silent Spring," while a resident of Maryland.