The Arctic Rim nations possess a wide variety of ice-capable vessels that are potentially available to UK Arctic researchers. These range from small research vessels such as the Norwegian Lance which can operate near sea-ice and within fjords through to the very large, nuclear powered heavy ice-breakers operated by Russia capable of tackling most Arctic ice conditions. Costs of operating the various ice-breakers are prohibitive for most research programmes but there are often opportunities to take a number of berths as part of another programme’s cruise.
Below is listed an overview of some of the ice-breaking research capable vessels operating in the Arctic Ocean. (Please contact the NERC Arctic Office for new links to be added):
There is a substantial fleet of many vessels operated primarily for keeping Canadian commercial waterways open through the northern winter and accessing northern territories.
The two largest (Canadian ‘Heavy Gulf’ class) are the Louis St Laurent and Terry Fox. There are plans to replace at least the Louis St Laurent in the next decade with a new vessel, the John G Diefenbaker.
There are four ‘Medium Gulf’ vessels namely Amundsen, Des Groseilliers, Henry Larsen and Pierre Radisson as well as a number of lighter ice-breakers. The Amundsen is unique in this fleet in being modified to provide a world class platform and made available to the academic community for up to six months each year.
Canada and the UK have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on polar logistic and research cooperation. This may prove useful in accessing Canadian polar vessels.
More information on the Canadian fleet can be found on the Canadian Coast Guard website.
One very large light ice-breaker ‘Xuelong’ (Snow Dragon), primarily designed for logistic support with limited research support facilities. A replacement vessel with greater ice capability and research facilities is planned. Xuelong operates primarily in the Antarctic, but has undertaken some Arctic cruises. The UK has a polar cooperation agreement with China.
A fleet of powerful ice-breakers, operating primarily in the Baltic which find summer employment on, for example, cable- and pipe-laying, anchor-handling, oil supply/support. More information on these vessels can be found on the Arctia website but opportunities for use in Arctic research have been limited.
Germany has a single medium heavy ice-breaker and research vessel Polarstern which operates in both Polar Regions. It is accessible to UK scientists via the multinational charter/barter agreement to which NERC is a signatory and several UK institutions have cooperative agreements with the Polarstern research operator, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).
Currently has one light-medium ice-breaker, ‘Shirase II’, newly deployed as a replacement for the original ‘Shirase’ and primarily utilised in the Antarctic.
Norway has only one active ice-breaking vessel, the Coastguard vessel, K.V. Svalbard. Several other research vessels, including the ‘Jan Mayen’ and the Norsk Polar Institute’s ‘Lance’ can operate in light pack ice. There are advanced plans to build a new ice-capable research vessel.
The world’s largest fleet with vessels of all ice classes, including a fleet of nuclear powered vessels though not all are operational. Through the Murmansk Shipping Company, one large diesel (‘Vladimir Ignatyuk’) and several nuclear, (including the newest, ‘Yamal’) ice-breakers are commercially available for charter.
In recent years the diesel powered ‘Kapitan Dranitsyn’ has been deployed successfully for Arctic research involving UK scientists, whilst Russian researchers make extensive use of ‘Akademik Fyodorov’.
A new ice-strengthened research vessel, ‘Araon’, designed for work in marginal ice. Similar capabilities to the UK’s James Clark Ross, but carries helicopters.
A fleet including three heavy ice-breakers; ‘Oden’, ‘Frej’ and ‘Ymer’. The ‘Oden’ has been used in a number of major Arctic Ocean research programmes and is currently chartered for five years each austral summer by the United States to support the resupply of McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat are encouraging more chartering of the ‘Oden’ by international research programmes.
The United States have a fleet of ice-capable vessels but only one of their recognised ice-breakers is currently operational. Two ice-strengthened (ABS Ice Class A1) research vessels (the R.V. Lawrence M. Gould and R.V. Nathaniel B. Palmer) are mainly deployed in the Southern Ocean in support of NSF Office of Polar Programs activities, whilst the medium-heavy Coastguard ice-breaker, USCGC Healy provides support for Arctic research.