^ Visualization of the NERC’s Next Generation Polar Research Vessel ~ Image Courtesy of Cammell Laird / BAS at https://www.bas.ac.uk/polar-operations/sites-and-facilities/ship/new-uk-polar-research-vessel/
For Venturing into Icy Wilderness
Cammell Laird will build a cutting edge polar research vessel for the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) at Birkenhead Shipyard. Designed by naval architects Houlder, this will be the first UK-built polar research ship with a helideck.
After the steel cutting ceremony slated for late 2016, the vessel will go operational in 2019. It will replace NERC’s two existing icebreakers viz. the RSS Ernest Shackleton and the RSS James Clark Ross.
In April 2014, the government had committed to finance a £200 million polar research ship incorporating the latest technology for pioneering research on oceans and climate in the polar zones.
Estimated to cost around $225.4 million, the vessel is a part of the $7.8 billion investment that the UK government has promised for building superior scientific infrastructure.
NERC prescribed a vessel with robotic vehicles, remote controlled gadgets, and underwater environmental monitoring systems capable of operating in the harsh polar environs.
British Antarctic Survey (BAS) will operate the vessel. The entire research fraternity in the UK will be able to avail the vessel for research in the Arctic and the Antarctic. It will also transport supplies to five BAS-operated UK research stations in Antarctica.
The Critical Importance of Polar Research
Arctic and Antarctic are among the fastest warming regions in the world. This not only threatens polar ecosystems but also affects other areas through sea level rise, global ocean circulation, and ecosystems that support the earth’s life support systems.
For example, the cold and dense water formed at the Arctic sinks and flows into the Atlantic. This is a part of the global circulation system that distributes heat on earth. Melting ice may also destroy phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Research suggests that global warming in general and polar warming in particular have weakened the North Atlantic Drift, the warm current that provides much needed heat to north and northwestern Europe and endows the region with a splendidly mild climate.
After encountering cold water near north European coasts, the warm water from this current sinks below and travels back southward. Apart from warming north Europe, this circulation also sends back cold water to tropical areas.
Excessive melting of ice along the path of the North Atlantic Drift lowers its density because freshwater is less dense than salty water. The current therefore does not sink along north European coasts as expected. This disturbs the whole temperature regulation mechanism.
Unlike in the northern hemisphere, an uninterrupted passage around Antarctica in the southern hemisphere connects the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. The continuous Atlantic Circumpolar Current (ACC) therefore plays a crucial role in regulating earth’s temperature.
Such continuity means the ACC can easily transfer climate phenomenon from one basin to another. This is a climate researcher’s paradise. But the remoteness and in-hospitability of the Southern Ocean prevent even the most committed of scientists from venturing here in winters.
Technical & Other Details
And this is where NERC’s research ship makes its presence felt. UK scientists will be able to conduct research in hitherto inaccessible areas even during bone chilling winters.
Capable of breaking through thicker ice than the current UK polar research vessels can, it can also play host to greater number of scientists and technicians while staying out at sea for longer durations.
Plus, the vessel will facilitate an interdisciplinary approach – a combination of atmospheric science, marine geology, chemical oceanography, geophysics, biology, and physics – that is so very essential in understanding the complicated mechanism of climate change.
Central to the vessel’s long term utility are the following sophisticated features:
- Flexible Laboratory Space: enables adjustment to evolving needs
- Endurance of 60 Days
- Helideck and Hangar: permit use of two helicopters to aid deployment of airborne scientific instruments and scientific field parties
- Scientific Moon Pool and Winching: allow reliable deployment and retrieval of remotely-operated, data-collection marine drones
Moon Pool is a 4 meter diameter vertical shaft that allows the lowering and raising of scientific equipment through the central and the most stable part of the vessel.
- Upgraded Underwater Environmental Monitoring Equipment
- Simultaneous Control over Multiple Remotely Operated Vehicles
- Upgraded Satellite Communications for Real Time Data Transfer
State-of-the-art devices and equipment systems aboard the vessel include:
- Swath Bathymetry Shallow and Deep
- Meteorological Weather Station
- Biological Multi-Beam Sonar and Multi-Beam Echo Sounder
- Scientific Echo Sounder
- Uniform Straight Bill of Landing
- Omni-Directional or Multi-Beam Sonars
- Sub-Bottom Profiler
- Robotic Submarines and Marine Gliders: to gather data on sea life and ocean conditions
- Scientific Moon Pool and Winching Systems: to deploy and recover data collection autonomous marine vehicles such as the Autosub NERC Submarine
- Satellite Communication Systems: for real time data transfer to and from the UK
When deployed, NERC’s polar research vessel will be another link in the chain of efforts that further our understanding of the planet and grave challenges such as Global Warming and Climate Change.
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