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    Wärtsilä completes technical design of research icebreaker

    Vessel & ROV News // December 4, 2008

    Wärtsilä and The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, part of the Helmholtz Association, yesterday presented the technical design of the European Research vessel Aurora Borealis, a multi-purpose icebreaker, deep-sea drilling, and research ship for Polar conditions. 
    Aurora Borealis will be a unique vessel - a combination of a heavy icebreaker, a scientific drilling ship, and a multi-purpose research platform that can operate year-round in all polar waters. When completed, it will be the world's most sophisticated research vessel.

    Because of European interest in, and proximity to the Arctic environment, the Aurora Borealis project was included in the priority list of the European Commission's 'European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures' (ESFRI) within the 7th Framework Programme as one of only seven projects in the 'Environmental Sciences' section.

    Following up on this process, 15 institutions and agencies from 10 European nations, including Norway and the Russian Federation, founded the European Research Icebreaker Consortium (ERICON).

    The European Commission has funded the preparatory phase with Euros 4.5 million.
    In 2006, the German Science and Humanities Council recommended construction of Aurora Borealis, and the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research has funded the technical design process and planning works with Euros 5.2 million, as a precondition for a later realisation.

    The anticipated construction costs as of 2008 are around Euros 650 million. Germany has been active in Polar research for more than 25 years, most notably with its research icebreaker Polarstern.

    The Alfred Wegener Institute is also globally connected, by more than 74 co-operational agreements, to the most important international research centres for polar and marine research.
    Subject to sufficient financial support, the preparations for the construction of the vessel should be completed by 2011, and construction could start as early as 2012.

    This would enable the first scientific operations to be undertaken in 2014 or thereabouts.
    Access to the Arctic Ocean and the ability to cope with pack ice are essential in order to perform scientific drilling, so that the unresolved questions of climate change and variability can be answered.

    Aurora Borealis will thus be equipped with a drilling rig that enables researchers to drill more than 1,000m into the seabed, in water depths between 100 and 5,000m. For the first time, scientific deep-sea drilling will become possible even in drifting pack ice, without need of support from additional icebreakers.

    To perform these drilling operations, the ship has to be kept exactly in position on the floating ice. A dynamic positioning system capable for manoeuvring in ice - an absolute novelty in the shipping industry - is mandatory for this task.

    Extensive model tests in the ice tanks of the Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA) and Aker Arctic Research Centre in Helsinki, Finland, have proven that Aurora Borealis will indeed be able to dynamically position in ice cover of 2m or more.

    Another unique characteristic of Aurora Borealis is the two 7m x 7m moonpools, which will enable scientists to deploy their equipment into the ocean without being subject to wind, waves and ice.

    The aft moonpool is mainly dedicated to drilling operations, while the forward moonpool is reserved for most other scientific work. This allows, for the first time, deployment of very sensitive and expensive equipment, such as ROVs, in closed sea ice cover.

    Scientific laboratories are located on several decks around the moonpool, which is designed in an atrium-like shape with circular walkways and preparation areas.

    In order to optimally equip the ship for all kinds of specialised expeditions, containerised laboratories can be also loaded here and become fully integrated into the scientific workflow on board.


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