Expeditions in the early 20th century were the first to combine exploration and scientific discovery in the Antarctic. While the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) was set up to co-ordinate international activities back in 1958, only in the last few decades have we realized the importance of the Antarctic for marine ecology, ocean circulation and climate change. Given its remoteness, the Antarctic is more accessible than ever. The last several years have seen advancements in polar technology and the introduction of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), making previously inaccessible areas open to scientific investigation and hailing the start of a new era for Antarctic exploration.
The Antarctic is one of Earth’s most extreme environments. Ice-winds, active volcanoes, unstable ice-sheets and ever-changing glaciers form the harsh landscape polar scientists must face in order to understand it’s role in ocean circulation, ecological processes and the changing climate. According to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), it is the largest ice mass on Earth covering an area of around 14 million square km (around 58 times the size of the UK) and holds 90% of the world’s freshwater.
The annual expansion and contraction of sea ice in the Antarctic represents one of the biggest natural changes in the world.
In colder months, sea ice cover can extend more than one and a half times the size of the Antarctic continent (approximately 20 million square km), playing an important role in reflecting solar energy. In the polar summer, the same region might reduce down to 3 million square km and is a major driver of global ocean overturning circulation. In September 2014, sea ice expanded to its greatest coverage since records began in 1978, adding to the ongoing mystery of the Antarctic ice paradox. Additionally, scientists still know very little about the variations in thickness across the continent, making it a considerable focus in research.
Technologies in Extreme Environments
Traditional measurements made by visual observations on board vessels or drilling holes on the sea ice remain vital for polar data collection missions. However, difficulties in getting access to thicker areas of sea ice leaves gaps in the data.
Remote sensing techniques can be used to overcome these issues by providing observations of the physical environment from instruments mounted on aircraft or satellites. While these observations can be useful for measuring large-scale thickness, snow cover can make the process of accurately interpreting the data difficult.
Now, with the rise of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) for polar applications, scientists are able to gain access to remote areas previously inaccessible. The AUVs ability to operate autonomously makes them well-suited to the exploration of extreme environments.
Over the last decade, AUVs have been successfully used worldwide for long ranging, open ocean data collection missions. While they would be useful tools for polar scientists, the use of the technology in these environments come with a number of engineering challenges, financial risks and operational difficulties.
“Recovery in open water is pretty straight forward - if there is a problem, send the vehicle to the surface,” explains Dr. Guy Williams, of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies. “However, under sea ice, returning to the surface is impossible. In addition, unknown bathymetry, icebergs and ocean currents, are all additional hazards that play on the risk versus reward assessment for AUVs in Polar Regions. In addition, the larger AUV deployments tend to dominate the logistics of any voyage they are participating in. When the long range vehicles are in the water, there is often not a lot of other marine science that can occur until it has safely returned.”
Dr. Williams was part of the international team of polar scientists who successfully produced the world’s first detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice using an AUV developed and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanography Institution (WHOI). While there has been studies mapping ice shelves using AUVs, none before targeting sea-ice. The new technology provided accurate measurements of ice thickness from areas that were previously too difficult to access. The project set the pace of research in the Polar Regions aimed at understanding the dramatic sea ice changes in the context of climate change.
“Previous attempts to estimate the thickness of Antarctic sea ice relied on visual observations and manual drilling - both of which are suspected to be biased to thin ice. The AUV returns the entire thickness distribution for the sea ice floes near the ship - and a richness of data on the morphology of the sea ice in unprecedented detail,” said Dr. Williams.
Operating at 20-30m depth, the AUV was fitted with an upward-looking sonar in order to measure and map the underside of sea ice floes. Lines of data in a lawnmower pattern were merged to form high-resolution 3D bathymetric surveys of the underside of the ice. The combination of airborne measurements of sea-ice surface elevation, ice coring surveys, satellite observations and data from the AUV (called Jaguar), vastly improves scientists’ estimates of ice thickness and total sea ice volume.
The Importance of Internal Collaboration
International collaborations have seen notable funding opportunities for the development of technologies with the objective to significantly progress polar science over the next few years. These technologies are set to provide the resources for data collection beyond past capabilities, paving the way to new discoveries and advanced understandings into the relationship between climate change, the Antarctic and the rest of the world.
In 2014 alone, several partnerships have committed millions for the advancement of Antarctic and Antarctic research. The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has proposed a new ship worth $300 million, containing on board laboratories capable of analysing polar samples from both Antarctic and Antarctic research missions. The latest technology will be available for scientific users, including underwater gliders and robotic submarines. Its robust design outcompetes previous polar research vessels with the ability to advance further through hard ice-covered water and reach areas previously inaccessible by sea.
The Australian Antarctic Gateway Partnership announced $24 million Federal grant, part of which will go into developing a marine technology hub to build next generation hybrid autonomous vehicles for measurements within the polar environment.
Dr. Williams explains, “Our study has laid the foundation for this new funding, as it proved not only the value of the data returned from the AUV, but also that the AUV could be operated in the harsh Antarctic environment without loss - a key concern for funding agencies. While this new initiative won’t directly advance this particular research (WHOI SeaBED under sea ice), it will look to develop the next ‘game-changer’ for even more advanced AUV missions, in particular long-range missions beneath Antarctic ice shelves (much deeper and more challenging).”
The grant is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) under its Special Research Initiatives scheme and includes the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the Australian Maritime College, the CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, and the Australian Antarctic Division.
Due to its proximity to Antarctica, Tasmania is an international gateway for both scientific research and logistic support. On some level the different nations are in Antarctica for sovereignty claims, both on land and in the ocean surrounding it. But on a scientific level, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are critical components of the global climate system. Observational data sets are hard-won and overall there is a paucity of data from this region compared to other parts of the globe.
Dr Alex Forrest from the Australian Maritime College, a Principal Investigator overseeing the team conducting the robotic exploration, explains “Ice is of global significance, playing important roles in ocean circulation and the functioning of polar ecosystems. However, inaccessibility makes it hard to quantify its properties at meaningful spatial scales. AUVs are potentially able to measure horizontal variability in ice properties at near centimetre resolution along kilometers of trackline, offering a fundamentally new approach to ice research. Our project will develop and apply new AUV instrumentation specifically for estimating particularly important and spatially variable properties of ice, that of the irradiance below, and biomass of algae within the ice.”
The collaboration will involve researchers from more than 10 countries and complement the Australia’s Antarctic Science Strategic Plan to understand the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the global climate system.
The Future of Polar Science with AUVs
The development of polar-adapted technologies will help moderate the associated risks with extreme environmental conditions and reduce the difficulties of accessibility. New technologies will be essential to unlocking opportunities for obtaining new data, surveying unexplored locations and advancing scientific discovery.
Firstly, a number of technical challenges for AUV operations in Polar Regions will need to be addressed, including navigation, data telemetry and autonomy. Navigation and telemetry for AUV platforms relies on satellite positioning (GPS) and communications (Iridium, ARGOS). These approaches are poorly suited to polar areas where ice cover restricts access to the sea surface and adds to the risk of AUV missions. Advancements in data telemetry and navigational systems would mitigate the financial risk associated with the loss of a platform, and more importantly, the scientific data stored on board.
Dr. Williams explains, “Greater endurance or battery life will be the key to expanding the scale of these missions, such that we can make the sort of routine measurements necessary to really get to the heart of questions such as ‘How thick is the entire Antarctic sea ice zone?’ and ‘Is that thickness changing?’. Also, greater sophistication in the autonomy of the vehicles, together with the ability for them to work as teams and also work with autonomous vehicles surveying the sea ice from above (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones).”
While deep waters remain a challenge, shallow high latitude shelves can also be resistant to measurement efforts. Ice scouring poses a serious threat to bottom mounted instrumentation and surveying shallow, ice-covered shelves will likely require a combination of methods and the capability of tolerating instrument losses while still providing useful data return. Nevertheless, surveying shallow or narrow under-ice areas is still an area of scientific interest and a focus for some projects.
Dr Forrest explains “One of the main areas of exploration that we will be targeting is under ice-shelf cavities in the marine setting. While these areas have been visited (probably less than the number fingers on one hand), there is still an amazing amount that is unknown. One of the aims of the Gateway project is to investigate the seafloor, the ice ceiling and the water column in between. While we intend to develop a vehicle that has the conventional technology, we intend to make it modular enough that we can develop new capabilities now and into the future.”
Over the next decade, these new technologies will steer the course of scientific research in the Antarctic. AUVs that are smaller in size and have a higher endurance with effective data telemetry options will eventually be needed to progress observations through the seasons, in areas which have been less accessible until now.
“While working under-ice is ideally suited for robotic exploration, it poses significant environmental challenges that we try to engineer solutions for. Every time we deploy we have unexpected challenges (e.g. Navigation, sensors, etc.). However, what makes a good team is how they respond and overcome these challenges. It is our hope that this platform will be able to provide new insights into marine ecosystem dynamics in the Antarctic but would also be applicable in other ice-covered scenarios,” Dr. Forrest.
The polar environment remains a unique place for scientific discovery and notable advances over the last few years are a result of international collaborations. In the years to come, science in the Antarctic has the potential to lead to major advances in solving vital questions for climate change and ecosystem responses, strengthening predictive models for environmental management and policy reforms.
“Our observations challenge us to explain the world around us and to develop theories that fit these explanations, such that we can predict future behaviour. Any time there is a major advance in our observational capability (new microscope, new telescope, new x-ray machine etc.), there quickly follows dramatic shifts in our understanding/theory and prediction. Measuring is believing and so with so many aspects of the polar environment now accessible by these types of platforms, we can expect a quantum leap forward in our efforts to understand how this vital component of the climate system is responding to change,” Dr. Williams.
Kira Coley is a freelance writer with a Marine Biology degree from University of Portsmouth and experience as a Field Scientist in various locations including Madagascar, Sicily, and Scotland. She is now a PhD researcher and regularly publishes articles and technical papers discussing key research topics in the marine sciences, oceanography and offshore industry.
(As published in the January/February 2015 edition of Marine Technology Reporter - http://www.marinetechnologynews.com/Magazine)
in Polar waters, for the transportation of cargo and personnel from the U.K. and South Atlantic ports to research stations maintained by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), one of the Council's component institutes, in the Antarctic; to discharge cargo without the assistance of normal port facilities
ITT Antarctic Services, Inc., under contract to the National Science Foundation, Division of Polar Programs, is seeking the charter/purchase of an icebreaking research vessel to operate in the Antarctic and southern ocean waters in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program. The general purpose, multidisci
The R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, owned by Edison Chouest Offshore, has been custom designed for the Antarctic research activities of the National Science Foundation. Engineered by a firm in Vancouver, and being built in Louisiana, the vessel incorporates both Thordon bearings and a water soluble Thor-Lube
Peter A. Malcolm, Marine Coordinator of "In the Footsteps of Scott," a British expedition to the Antarctic, has selected the Sweet- Water 400 RO (reverse osmosis) unit as the onboard water supply for this historic, two year voyage. Bob Daniels, president of Marland Environmental Systems, makers of
nation's first commercial icebreaking research ship, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, recently began operation for the National Science Foundation (NSF) U.S. Antarctic Program. To be operated under the direction of Antarctic Support Associates (ASA), a joint venture of Holmes & Narver, Services, Inc. (HNSI)
for delivery to V/0 Sudoimport of Moscow in the fall of 1987. This vessel will serve as an icebreaker, research, supply, and passenger ship in the Antarctic region. During the past few years several countries have shown increasing interest in the Antarctic, and there should be more activity there
hull of Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross was coated with Ecospeed. The ship is one of two ice-strengthened research vessels operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Ecospeed is not only the best solutions available for underwater hulls of icebreakers and ice-going vessels, the coating also provides
Casualties • On 23 November 2007, the passenger vessel EXPLORER struck an ice floe in the Bransfield Strait near the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic Ocean. The hull was breached and the subsequent flooding could not be controlled. The ship sank about 15 hours afterwards. Fortunately, the passenger
thick and able to transit the Northern Sea Route year-round. For several years, the National Science Foundation (NSF), administrators of the U.S. Antarctic Program, chartered a Russian icebreaker each Antarctic summer to support its annual resupply voyages to McMurdo Station, called Operation Deep Freeze
research ship. Able to break ice three feet thick at a speed of three knots, the pioneering 308-foot vessel is operated under the direction of Antarctic Support Associates (ASA), a joint venture of Holmes & Narver, Services, Inc., Orange, Calif., and EG&G, Inc., Wellesley, Mass., for the National Scie
also announced the delivery of a multiple scientific winch system for the new RAf Nathanial B. Palmer operated by Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc. for Antarctica Support Associates. This system is the second winch package manufactured for the Antarctica Support Associates, and emphasizes their need for
signi? cant region requires a meaningful presence, will continue to grow,” states the Coast break ice; it needs a multi- research activities in the Antarctic region and that requires ships, aircraft, systems Guard’s Arctic Strategic Outlook, re- Tmission ship to provide for the for many years. and
SHIPBUILDING USCG POLAR SECURITY CUTTER An emperor penguin poses for a photo in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. The crew of the Seattle-based Polar Star is on its way to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2018,
Tech RRS Sir David Attenborough was of? cially said Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of named at a special naming ceremony held at British Antarctic Survey. “Our missions will Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead, UK, shipyard take us to the most remote areas with the most on September 26, 2019. While
connected as far a? eld as nectivity would be popular is not ground-breaking of ity delivers more consumers on board, and this revenue the Arctic and Antarctic is due to the surge in popular- course. Cruising isn’t cheap so high bills for posting goes towards funding the high levels of capacity that ‘Cruising
three epic expeditions around the globe, take people to the Arctic on cruise ships underestimate how hard the work is,” including ? rst to cross the Antarctic Cir- ? lled with teaching moments that trans- he said. “I am delighted when someone cle in 1773. Sailing thousands of miles form passengers into
and Europe, but also Drake Passage and the Norwegian Sea from SKF. The stabilizers can be used in 1982, as Midnatsol. Hurtigruten is the Antarctic, Greenland, Iceland and due to the reduced motions an accelera- both during transit and at zero speed.” now deploying its hybrid powered 530 Alaska
expect to be connected at all times. The 100% increase in capacity required to keep guests, crew and company connected as far a?eld as the Arctic and Antarctic is due to the surge in popularity of expedition cruising. Marlink customers in the sector include Hapag-Lloyd Cruises ?eet which is operating in
in exploration travel offering voyages to more than 200 unique destinations in more than 30 countries ranging across the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic and including cruises in Norway, Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, Western Europe, and the Americas. In an exclusive interview with Maritime Reporter
the Amazon suitable for many RMN requirements. The ? rst batch challenges of acquisition, maintenance, manpower, basin, Icebreakers operating in the Antarctic region and of Kedah-class PVs, based on the German MEKO 100 basing, communications, information systems and the amphibious ships capable of transportin
for cruise ships, such as the Arctic modern communications technologies ‘Connectivity as a Service’ – there’s no Cruise liner connectivity and the Antarctic. and services for the shipping industry capex or commitment involved, simply An example of this approach is pro- Marlink’s Sealink service is designed
around the globe, including happy social structures, far more so than Europe.” Lindblad is concerned the expedition cruise ship ? rst to cross the Antarctic Circle in 1773. Sailing thou- Lindblad Expeditions’ alliance with National Geo- category could get a bad reputation harming pristine sands of miles
Expeditions, which will deploy Cruises, another Carnival brand, is also the assessment, SkillGrader the intention, the interest and the re- her in the Antarctic. A sister expedition planning to reposition two smaller ves- automatically analyzes the sources to develop its market for pas- vessel will be delivered
missions including under-ice with other available in-situ sensors work in the Arctic and oceanography processed in real-time using a Kalman in the Antarctic. A key program sup- ? lter. These are all signi? cant improve- ported by these vehicles, sponsored by ments from the ? rst Odyssey vehicles the
to win the contract to build the Polar Security Cutters. By Greg Trauthwein The case for the U.S. to build a new year you get those answers” of why the Antarctica, the need for a new ? eet of right team – designer, builder, out? tters class of icebreakers is strong. While U.S. needs to rebuild its ?
Vessels Damen Floats out Australian Icebreaker Damen with the positioning of prefabricated of Marine Research (IMR). Aussie Icebreaker Floats Out The new Antarctic Supply Research superstructure blocks, bringing the ? n- The 9,000-gross-ton icebreaker is Vessel (ASRV) RSV Nuyina currently ished vessel to
she was lar science since the 1980s. mous vehicles to provide a consistency even named, as a public contest to name “Britain began exploring the Antarctic of presence and economy of scale that the vessel arrived on “Boaty McBoat- over a century ago when it seemed to be is unmatched by manned operations
Vessel for the French some 1,500 course participants. Mari- Code is STCW mandatory as of 1 July port the gas from the Sabetta terminal Southern and Antarctic Lands adminis- time Reporter visited the facility in May. 2018. The diversi? ed training portfolio independently, without icebreaker assis- tration
of eight icebreakers. Naturally the numerous vessels designed MODERN CLASS FOR SMARTER OPERATIONS and built for the high Arctic seas, as well as the Antarctic, has resulted in a knowl- Today’s market needs smarter solutions – and a modern classi?cation partner. Find out how our modern classi?cation edge
, and perform dives Pro? ler (AZFP) 38, 125 and 200 kHz instrument in the Terra on command to collect valuable intelligence. Nova Bay (Ross Sea, Antarctica). The deployment lasted 3 “This vehicle is a game-changer for both the industry and weeks and the glider was recovered on January 31, 2018.
new polar research vessel, the Sir David Atten- tem in the US and the fourth-largest in the world, runs 10 borough, to be operated by the British Antarctic Survery. routes serving 20 terminals located in the San Juan Islands The contract covers six cranes, all offshore-rated and to be and around Puget
noise emitted. Imagine sailing perfectly shaving” i.e. batteries charging and re- The newest additions to the brand sailings to pristine Arctic and Antarctic silently along the ice edge in the Arctic charging under varying power demand are currently being built in Norway’s waters, including new adventurous
On Polar Star’s current deployment to the Antarctic in support of Operation ? ooding in the cut- Deep Freeze, a seal on one of its three shafts failed, causing ter’s engine room at the rate of approximately 20 gallons per minute. An emergen- one cy shaft seal was installed and the engineering space was
has been repeated over and over again for all but the four years of the ser- vice life extension. On Polar Star’s current deployment to the Antarctic in support of Operation 12 Maritime Reporter & Engineering News • MARCH 2018 MR #3 (10-17).indd 12 MR #3 (10-17).indd 12 3/5/2018 2:43:46
to see these parts of the cruises of up to 20 days where provision- cold or warm water operation, even if it In our opinion, based on the very remote Antarctic, the Arctic, or small uninhab- ing is impossible. Companies have to be could still do both. This design is now areas of operation, as well as