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Arctic Research Icebreaker Consortium: A strategy for meeting the needs for marine-based research in the Arctic

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Better access to Arctic icebreakers delivers vital climate data

Icebreaker vessels play a crucial role in collecting the data we need to cope with climate change in the Arctic and beyond. An EU-funded project helped European marine researchers access such ships to deliver important new insights.

Climate Change and Environment

The devastating impact of climate change on the Arctic region affects us all. Retreating sea ice and warmer temperatures have the potential to trigger profound changes, such as modified weather patterns, elsewhere. “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic: there is an urgent need to collect data from the Arctic region to understand the reach of these changes and how they will affect our future,” says Verónica Willmott Puig, ARICE project manager. The EU-funded ARICE consortium, coordinated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, helped fill in this gap by improving researchers’ access to a valuable asset: the existing fleet of polar research vessels. “There are only a handful of research vessels that can break through the ice, and only a few countries operate such facilities,” Willmott Puig notes.

Unique data for climate research breakthroughs

Through ARICE, European scientists gained transnational access to a set of key European and international research icebreakers. Seven outstanding research projects were selected for cruises undertaken thanks to ARICE funding – with remarkable results. For instance, researchers from the DEARice project joined the MOSAiC expedition which saw German icebreaker Polarstern drift through the Arctic Ocean for a year. The DEARice team collected unique data on snow and sea ice which will help improve climate projections. The GO-WEST project was able to explore the impact of sea ice decline on polar cod during a cruise on board the American icebreaker Sikuliaq. Among other achievements, they successfully trialled a novel under-ice trawl net. Researchers from several other ARICE-funded projects boarded Swedish icebreaker Oden to contribute to the Synoptic Arctic Survey. This initiative collected empirical data in the Arctic Ocean with a view to creating a baseline to track climate change and its impacts.

Tourist cruises as a gateway for research

The ARICE team also put a sustained dialogue between the scientific community and the industry in place. Networking activities under the ‘Ships and Platforms of Opportunities Programme’ aimed to build mutual trust and develop cooperation in a number of fields. These include research priorities for science and industry operating in the area, data collection, technology solutions, safety, and sea ice and weather forecasting. A key outcome of these activities is the ongoing cooperation with French cruise company Ponant, which operates a tourist icebreaker vessel equipped with laboratories and state-of-the-art research equipment. For each of their polar cruises, Ponant offers the opportunity to bring up to four scientists on board free of charge to collect data. “These cruises offer very valuable complementary data to the data obtained with fully dedicated research icebreakers. One reason for this is that the same transects are repeated several times in the season and year after year, which is key for monitoring purposes,” Willmott Puig explains.

Online access to virtual icebreakers

ARICE has also developed a set of digital tools. Its 3D Virtual Icebreaker platform provides interactive online access to the ship’s routes, equipment and facilities, helping researchers prepare for their cruise while also offering insights for the wider public with an interest in Arctic exploration. Data tools developed through the project include a map viewer, a metadata catalogue and a polar cruise report inventory. Together, they will help make the data collected available for further analysis and future research.


ARICE, research icebreakers, research vessels, marine research, transnational access, Arctic Ocean, climate change, data collection

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