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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special issue - May 2005   
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Title  The Aurora Borealis: proposal for an advanced European icebreaker

Sediment deposits, lying deep beneath the Arctic Ocean floor, hold the key to understanding the region’s climate history, and its effect on the global environment over many millions of years. Drilling for this information while operating in pack ice, however, is a very delicate and costly operation that requires state-of-the-art vessels and technology.

Cross-section of the proposed European research icebreaker, Aurora Borealis
Cross-section of the proposed European research icebreaker, Aurora Borealis
Following the recent success of the Arctic Coring Expedition (ACEX – see ACEX: The Arctic coring expedition), which required an ice-strengthened drilling vessel and two powerful icebreakers to extract a 400 metre core from the Arctic Ocean floor, the European Polar Board (EPB) has been putting together an ambitious proposal for a new, dedicated European research icebreaker. Such a vessel would be capable of operating throughout the year as an autonomous drilling platform in the highest latitudes of the Arctic.

Originally proposed by Jörn Thiede, Director of the Alfred Wegener Institut (AWI) in Bremerhaven, the Aurora Borealis would be equipped with a new twin hull design comprising steeply-sloped side walls capable of breaking ice laterally so as to maintain the ship’s exact position during drilling. At 132 metres long for 23,000 tonnes, it would contain berths for 200 crew and scientists.

Participating countries to share the cost - and scientists’ time on board
With an estimated price-tag of 300 million euros, the idea is for the Aurora Borealis to be majority funded by a consortium of participating European nations, with other possible non-EU contributors such as the U.S.A., Canada, Japan and China.

Expected to operate up to 300 days a year and to provide some 15,000 scientific working days, the Aurora Borealis would be managed on a share basis, with time being allocated according to individual countries’ financial contributions. In addition to drilling activities, the vessel would also provide logistical support for research in the fields of meteorology, oceanography, geophysics, biology and the study of sea ice, and would be equipped with novel technologies such as ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) and AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) systems.

With a final decision on its construction expected in the second half of 2005, it is anticipated that the Aurora Borealis could be operational as early as 2008-2009.

    
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