News, Research & Development

New ice breaking research vessel provides new knowledge

A new Norwegian ice breaking research vessel will provide new opportunities for polar research, and increase security in the North.

Image above by Randall Hyman

In their day, Nansen’s Fram and Amundsen’s Maud cleared a path for new insight into the Polar Regions. In the suggested government budget, which is currently being examined by the Norwegian Parliament, a grant for a new ice breaking research vessel has been included. This is an important continuation of the proud Norwegian research tradition in the Polar Regions.

Acquire More Data

Up until now, the Polar Regions have been difficult to access, even in summer. Consequently, we lack important knowledge about both ecosystems and the physical natural environment. We also lack significant insight into the Northern Barents Sea and the Arctic Sea. The new vessel will give us the opportunity to acquire more data on the oceans in the Arctic and around Antarctica. This will provide a stronger basis for decision-making concerning management of natural resources and the environment in these areas.

An ever more rapid reduction of the Arctic ice mass will cause great changes in the ecosystems, both in ice and water. We need more knowledge in order to understand what consequences this will have. With little data and knowledge about the status before, it is difficult to understand and predict changes to the ecosystems and to plan strategies for how we as a society should face the status afterwards. Many of the biological resources we manage and exploit are directly and indirectly connected to the sea ice. The rich biological production along the edge of the ice is fundamental to many species, and important to the rich fishing resources of the North.

Norway wants to protect the biodiversity of the Polar Regions, but little research has been done on this topic. We need more knowledge about non-commercial species and about how organisms live in such extreme surroundings. Organisms adapted to extreme natural conditions may also carry secrets that could be exploited commercially. Discoveries based on marine bioprospecting in organisms from Polar Regions may potentially find uses in the pharmaceutical industry and foodstuffs industry, among others.

Understanding the Environment & Improving Knowledge

Norway has significant research interests connected to the natural physical environment. Norwegian researchers have a long and strong tradition, not in the least in the fields of meteorology and oceanography. Still, there are significant knowledge gaps when it comes to the balance of energy and mass between the atmosphere, the ice and the ocean; additional insight into conditions in the depths and the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. Fridtjof Nansen was a pioneer in the exploration of this ocean. The new vessel will provide better opportunities for taking new measurements from new areas, measurements that will be important in understanding the natural environment and improving models. This knowledge should be put to use in international climate initiatives, such as the UN’s climate panel and the Arctic Council.

Another important topic is improving our knowledge of the geological layers beneath the seabed. They may turn out to be natural archives of prehistoric climate and bioproduction. They may also pose geohazards such as underwater landslides (greenhouse) gas and fluid emissions. They may represent sources of energy in the form of conventional oil and gas, gas hydrates, or geothermal heat. Studies of the sea and ice can be used to improve climate models used to predict possible climate developments both regionally and globally. Knowledge of the Polar Regions is important in the management of resources in widely different locations on Earth.

Expanding Access & Increasing the Presence

Significant business interests are connected to fisheries, petroleum, rocks, minerals and shipping in northern waters. The new ice breaking vessel will play an important part in acquiring new knowledge of these areas and the management of these resources. All these elements, in addition to tasks outlined in the management plan for the Barents Sea, will require increased research investment, presence and monitoring of our northern regions. In addition, the vessel can be used as a resource when required, such as for search and rescue. During construction, we will be striving to ensure that the research vessel, together with other Norwegian marine infrastructure, such as the Coast Guard, will become an integral resource in the High North. The vessel will have Tromsø as its home port.

The new ice breaking vessel will strengthen Norway’s position as a leading nation when it comes to acquiring knowledge about these regions, by significantly expanding our access to those parts of the seas in the Arctic that are covered by ice, and by being an all-year presence there.

The original article was published in Norweay Exports Research and Development, June 2013. The front image was an ice breaking vessel designed by Rolls-Royce Marine. © Illustration: Rolls-Royce Offshore Systems.
The image in the header was by Randall Hyman. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his blog here.