Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Europe Contemplates New Research Icebreaker

A consortium composed of fifteen research organizations from ten European countries is continuing to examine the costs of building what would be "the most advanced icebreaker in the world," the multi-purpose Aurora Borealis. The project is being coordinated by the European Polar Board of the European Science Foundation with design input by such firms as Wartsila Ship Design Germany and Aker Arctic Technology of Finland.

According to its supporters, Aurora Borealis will be a unique vessel in that it will function as a heavy icebreaker, a scientific drilling platform and a multi-purpose research ship. The ship, to measure 199.8 meters by 49.0 meters, will have a displacement of approximately 65,000 tons on a maximum draft of 13 meters. Propulsion will be provided by a diesel-electric system using eight diesel generator sets with a maximum output of 94 MW driving three fixed-pitch propellers on shafts and six fully-retractable transverse thrusters. This will give a maximum speed in open water of 15.5 knots, a loaded service speed of 12 knots and the capability to break ice more than 2.5 meters thick at a speed of 2 to 3 knots. Accommodation will be provided for up to 120 scientific personnel and crew in 80 single and 20 double cabins.

The new research ship will have a full-functional capability down to -50¼C and an operational temperature range of between +45¼C and -30 ¼C with a maximum operational endurance of 90 days.

In an installation unique among polar icebreakers, Aurora Borealis will be equipped with a drilling rig that will enable researchers to drill more than 1,000 meters into the sea floor while the ship floats between 100 meters and 5,000 meters above the drilling site. To allow this, the ship will be fitted with a dynamic positioning system capable of operating in ice. Although such a system is considered a novelty at the present it will be mandatory for the vessel's research tasks. The system will allow scientific deep-sea drilling in pack ice without the need of support from other icebreakers.

Extensive model tests in the ice tanks of the Hamburg Ship Model Basin have proven that Aurora Borealis will be able to dynamically position in an ice cover of two or more meters thickness.

Another unique feature of the vessel will be the incorporation of two seven-by-seven-meter moon pools which will enable scientists to deploy their equipment into the ocean without being subject to wind, waves and ice. The ship's aft moon pool will be mainly dedicated to drilling operations while the forward moon pool will be reserved for most other scientific work. This will allow deployment of sensitive and expensive equipment, such as remotely operated or autonomous underwater vehicles, within a closed sea ice cover.

The preparatory phase of the ship's development is to be completed by 2012 when actual construction is expected to begin. This will be followed by sea trials and testing procedures, allowing the new European polar research vessel to become operational in 2014 with an expected lifespan of 35 to 40 years.

The ship's construction is included in the priority list of the European Commission's "European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures" but the vessel's cost, estimated at 355 million Euros when the project was first launched in 2006, has since mushroomed to more than 650 million Euros.