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Q: Arctic ocean drift, any interest for science today? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Arctic ocean drift, any interest for science today?
Category: Science
Asked by: aurorae-ga
List Price: $120.00
Posted: 07 Aug 2005 12:42 PDT
Expires: 06 Sep 2005 12:42 PDT
Question ID: 552776
In 1893 Fridtjof Nansen froze his ship, the Fram, and started a long
drift over the Arctic Ocean. 2007-2008 will be the International Polar
year. A lot of scientific activity will take place in the Arctic as
well as in the Antartic.

They are now many type of automated station as well as numerous
satellites for collecting observation.

I am wondering if today, a small ship drifting year long in the pack
could be of any use for the arctic observation sciences?
Which university or reaserch center could be interest in such a drift?
Was there any volontary arctic drift the past decades (who, when)?
Subject: Re: Arctic ocean drift, any interest for science today?
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 07 Aug 2005 18:09 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Thanks for a very <<ahem>> cool question.

Freezing a ship in arctic ice offers a few advantages over
establishing a long-term station based on buildings perched on the

The main advantage lies in safety.  Drifting arctic ice is subject to
unexpected rifts, break-ups, or direct exposure to the water
underneath the ice.  Buildings (and crew) can be lost as a result. 
This gives a floating ship-based station an obvious advantage in terms
of safety.

Also, a ship can be fully outfitted as a laboratory and living
quarters in a comfortable and well-stocked part of the temperate
world, rather than transporting modules to be assembled under arctic

Lastly, a ground station pretty much has to be at a pre-arranged site,
while a ship can explore local conditions (on the sea and on the ice)
and make choice based on local conditions as to what location makes
for the best station, in terms of the scientific goals of the

These advantages notwithstanding, few ships have actually been used as
ice stations.  For one thing, a ship embedded in ice is potentially
subject to enormous forces, and there is not much in the way of
collective experience in terms of how much ice pressure a ship's hull
can withstand.

And as you mentioned, temporary ice stations, unmanned monitors, or
remote observations from planes or satellites, can provide much of the
data that might have once required a shipboard observation crew.

However, there has been at least two major long-term ship-in-ice
observation stations, each very reminiscent of the experience of the
Fram more than a century ago.

A brief mention of ice based ships can be seen here:

...moving ice is dangerous ice - with nothing under it but icy water -
up to 3 miles / 5 km deep! Because of the possibility of "leads"
(cracks in the pack ice) opening up without warning, some research
stations have actually been ships frozen in the ice.

The most prominent -- and perhaps the only -- long term (more than a
year) ship-based ice station in recent years was established in the
Arctic in 1997-1998 by the SHEBA program:

Ice Station SHEBA 

An icebreaker frozen into the perennial Arctic ice pack will be home
to researchers measuring the energy balance between the ice, the
atmosphere, and the ocean. Their task is to help determine the
response of the sensitive Arctic to global climate change -- and to
predict the response of the global climate to changes in the Arctic.

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, Des Groseilliers, is currently
frozen in the ice pack 500 km (300 mi) North of Barrow, Alaska. For a
full Arctic cycle (13 months), it is expected to drift with the ice,
mainly north to west. A relay team of scientists and engineers will
take turns living and working on the ship and in the research camp
built around the ship on the ice. This is all part of a five-year,
international project called SHEBA -- Surface Heat Budget of the
Arctic -- led by the National Science Foundation and the Office of
Naval Research.


A bit more about SHEBA, along with a nice photo of the Des
Groseilliers embedded in the ice, can be seen here:

More text, and another good photo is here:

Be sure to mouse over the photo to get a look at ice-melt conditions,
and you'll get an idea for how treacherous a building-based (rather
than shipped-based) station would be.  In case there's any doubt,
here's another:

As the name, SHEBA, makes clear, the project was devoted to improving
our understanding the overall heat budget of the planet, as it's
impacted by the particular conditions of the Arctic.

A very nice overview of the actual measurment units that comprised
SHEBA can be seen here:

and includes about 30 individual stations that were involved in a
broad array of measurments of conditions in the atmosphere and ocean,
as well as ice and snow.

There's a general cataolg of SHEBA photos here:

an overview of the science behind SHEBA here:

and a whole list of overview reports, here:

There's much more information that can be had on SHEBA, but I didn't
want to overwhelm you with links.  However, if there's any aspect of
the project you would like additional information on, just let me
know, and I'll be glad to update my answer.


Beyond the SHEBA project, I've found only one other mention of a
research vessel spending any significant time frozen in the Arctic
ice...this occured rather recently, in 2004:

Canadian Geographic

A willing coalition of scientists searches for knowledge on the Beaufort Sea

...Last year, more than 100 years after Roald Amundsen left Norway to
navigate the first ship through the Arctic to the Beaufort, a research
vessel named in his honour became home to scientists from around the
world while they studied the environment of this northern sea.

...For one year, including six months that the ship spent frozen in
the ice, 225 scientists from Canada, the United States, Japan,
Denmark, Norway, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom conducted
experiments in everything from shifting sea-ice cover to changing
wildlife populations to fluctuations in the arctic atmosphere. When
the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen returned to port in
Quebec City on October 8, 2004 it carried a treasure chest of new
knowledge about the impact of climate change on the arctic ecosystem.

And here's a bit more on the same vessel:
The CCGS Amundsen ? The Canadian Coast Guard?s New Scientific Icebreaker
August 2003 

...The Amundsen will spend its first full year over-wintering in the
Arctic for research purposes. During the winter months, the icebreaker
will be frozen into the ice, giving scientists the opportunity to
study this unique ecosystem.


On the other side of the planet, ice stations are established in the
Antarctic as well, often with much the same research objectives as the
SHEBA project.  The Antarctic is underlain by land, rather than ocean,
which makes land-based ice stations a bit more feasible.  There is
certainly drift ice in the regions as well.  At times, ship-based
research still makes sense.

Here's one example of ship-based and drift-ice-based research (though
not from a ship frozen in the ice):


There was general agreement that more studies needed to be done in the
western Weddell Sea, but it is nearly impossible to move ships in and
out of the region. Hence was born the idea of an ice station floating
on the ice. This would be the first such ice station on floating ice
in the Southern Oceans. The ice station was deployed in early
February, 1992, from the Russian icebreaker Akademik Federov in the
southwestern Weddell Sea. The camp of 15 U.S. and 15 Russian
scientists and nearly two dozen structures was on an ice floe 2 km
long, 1 km wide, and over 1 meter thick. Over the next four months the
camp floated northward approximately 400 nautical miles. During that
time, scientific experiments were conducted in physical and chemical
oceanography, meteorology, sea ice formation, and biology.

Our job on the Nathaniel B. Palmer was to travel into the ice pack in
late May and early June from Punta Arenas, Chile, (on the Straits of
Magellan) and assist the Federov in recovering the camp and the
scientists. In accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, everything from
equipment and huts to human waste was to be brought out (more on that
below). While in transit to and from the ice camp several research
groups based on board the Palmer would conduct oceanographic and sea
ice experiments.

And there's actually a ship frozen in ice serving as a far northern
resort, of sorts:
The Ship frozen in the ice in Tempelfjorden

An unique experience...Staying aboard the world?s only boat locked in
the ice provides modern people with a unique experience, and the
opportunity to view the spectacular arctic nature up close....

From all appearances, the use of research vessels deliberately frozen
in the ice appears to have a legitimate scientific use, but one that
is not used very often.  Indeed, the use of the Des Groseilliers in
the SHEBA project was reportedly the first time since the Fram that
such an undertaking had been attempted:
Ships depart to launch Ice Station SHEBA in the Arctic Ocean

...It's been a hundred years since scientists deliberately locked
their ship in the ice for more than a year's worth of work With a
planned duration of about 13 months, Ice Station SHEBA represents the
longest period scientists have planned to work from a ship since
Fridtjof Nansen's Norwegian expedition locked into the pack ice off
the New Siberian Islands in 1893 and drifted for 34 months until it
reached Spitsbergen in 1896.

I trust the information here fully answers your question.  

However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need.  If you would like any additional information, just post a
Request for Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further,
and I'm at your service.

All the best,


search strategy -- Google searches on:

"ice station" ship OR ships frozen arctic OR antarctic OR antarctica

arctic drift  "frozen in the" ship OR ships

"ice station" ship OR ships frozen arctic OR antarctic OR antarctica -sheba

Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen

sheba fram

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 08 Aug 2005 19:08 PDT

Thanks for the link....your craft looks beautiful.  Very rugged and
handsome at the same time.

I'm not sure if any organization would be interested in your craft for
the specific purpose of freezing it into the ice pack.  As I hope was
clear from my answer, this would generally be a task for a larger
boat, and one that is specially designed for the rigors of being
pressed-in by tons of solid ice.

However, I imagine there would certainly be organizations with an
interest in making use of a vessel being offered up at no charge.  For
starters, why not consider contacting the organizing committee of the
International Polar Year, and ask them exactly what you've asked here:
 are any of you interested in making use of a small, sturdy research

The members of the IPY planning group are listed here, along with
their contact information:

If these are not the sort of contacts you're seeking, let me know in a
bit more detail what sort of focus you are most interested in.  As a
marine biologist myself, I'd love to see you be able to place this
vessel at a deserving facility.  I do think that beginning with the
IPY planning group is a good way to initative conversations with a
variety of institutions at the same time.

Let me know what you think.


Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 09 Aug 2005 11:30 PDT
Alas, private communication is not permitted here at Google Answers,
but thanks for thinking of it, just the same...and thanks, too, for
the very kind rating.

I'm envious of the adventure you're about to embark on, and hope we'll
have a chance to hear more about it in the pages of Google Answers one
of these days.

Bon Voyage!

aurorae-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Precise, clear and perfectely documented answer.

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