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One of the advanced polar research vessels scientists can gain access to via ARICE is the RRS Sir David Attenborough. The new polar ship is commissioned by NERC, built by Cammell Laird to a Rolls-Royce design and operated by British Antarctic Survey. From 2019 onwards scientists researching oceans, ice and atmosphere will have access to state-of-the-art facilities on this floating multidisciplinary research platform. Photo credit: Rolls-Royce.

Science

Fourteen partners from thirteen countries including the United States and Canada, have joined forces to improve capacities for marine-based research in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Research Icebreaker Consortium (ARICE) aims to give the Arctic science community fully funded access to six research icebreakers capable of venturing into the Arctic sea ice, better coordinating the existing polar research fleet, and collaborating with the maritime industry.

Retreating sea ice and warming waters create opportunities and challenges that have given rise to an unprecedented political and economic interest in the Arctic Ocean over the past decade. Increased European funding of polar research demonstrate how critical science-informed decision-making has become in the face of a changing Arctic. These investments have enabled European scientists to contribute substantially to understanding the ongoing processes. However, compared to the knowledge base needed for effectively predicting the effects of climate change, the available datasets are still insufficient.

One weak point of the polar research community is the small and ageing existing polar fleet. Research icebreakers are a crucial infrastructure and tool for conducting scientific investigations in the ice-covered areas of the Arctic Ocean – those regions that urgently need to be explored before they disappear. The lack of availability of icebreakers in Europe and beyond and a weakly coordinated polar research fleet impedes Europe’s capacity to investigate this region. There is thus an urgent need for providing polar scientists with better research icebreaker capacities for the Arctic.

For the first time ever, European scientists and the international community will be able to apply for valuable time on any of the icebreakers in order to conduct their research in the Arctic Ocean. “Who gets access is based solely on the scientific excellence of their research proposal. However, we especially encourage early career scientists and scientists from countries lacking direct access to a polar vessel to apply for ship time”, states Nicole Biebow, the ARICE project coordinator from the Alfred Wegener Institute.

The project is funded through the European Commission, which is coordinated by the German Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), with 6 million Euros. The project kick-off meeting took place at the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven on 6-7 February 2018.

ARICE will amongst other expeditions, give scientists access to the German research icebreaker Polarstern during the MOSAiC expedition. MOSAiC stands for Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate and is the first year-round expedition into the central Arctic exploring the Arctic climate system. PRV Polarstern will drift with the sea ice across the central Arctic from October 2019 until October 2020, serving as a platform for measurements over a full annual cycle.

Besides granting transnational access to time on a research icebreaker, ARICE will develop strategies to ensure a coordinated and improved use of the existing polar research vessels at a European and international level. In the long run, ARICE aims at implementing a sustained International Arctic Research Icebreaker Consortium, which jointly manages and funds ship-time in the Arctic. This would ensure a cost-effective usage of the existing research icebreakers and streamline polar research programs across national borders in order to jointly address the global challenges imposed by Arctic change.

Finally, ARICE works towards establishing closer links to marine business in order to adding to the observational capacities in the northern polar region. By establishing a program of ships and platforms of opportunity, commercial vessels operating in the Arctic Ocean will collect oceanic and atmospheric data on their cruises. At the same time, science and industry will work together to explore new technologies, which can improve ship-based and autonomous measurements in the Arctic Ocean. One output of the project will be a 3D virtual icebreaker, which allows remote access to data and provides real-time information to a broad audience.

Given the strategic importance of ARICE, the European Commission (EC) decided to fund the project within the Horizon 2020 framework. Over a project lifespan of four years, the EC invests 6 million Euro in the consortium, of which 50 % will be used for giving researchers access to the research icebreakers.

Members of the Consortium

Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Germany (Coordinator)

Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), Germany (hosted by the Alfred Wegener Institute)

Arctic Portal (AP), Iceland

British Antarctic Survey (NERC-BAS), UK

Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), Finland

Institute of Oceanology (IOPAN), Poland

Italian National Research Council (CNR), Italy

National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), France

Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), Norway

Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Spain

Swedish Polar Research Secretariat (SPRS), Sweden

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), USA

University of Laval (ULAVAL), Canada

Technical University of Denmark (DTU-Aqua), Denmark

World Ocean Council (WOC), UK

Participating Nations

Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, Norway, Iceland, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Finland, Denmark, Canada and the United States of America.

The Research Icebreakers

PRV Polarstern, Germany; IB Oden, Sweden; RV Kronprins Haakon, Norway; RRS Sir David Attenborough, UK (under construction); CCGS Amundsen, Canada; RV Sikuliaq, US.