Japan to Build LNG-Powered Arctic Research Icebreaker

5 mins read  Sealuminati TeamMay 19, 2021

In fiscal 2021, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) will develop a new large icebreaker for study in the north polar area. The research vessel, worth 33.5 billion yen ($306 million), will be similar in size to Shirase, the icebreaker Japan has used for research in Antarctica. The icebreaker is expected to enter operation in 2026, according to JAMSTEC.

"The new Arctic research vessel will play a monumental role as a valuable international research platform to carry out meteorological observations to understand the current state of the Arctic region which has resulted in Japanese climate change as well," JAMSTEC said.

Arctic exploration is becoming more important for both science and strategic purposes, as melting ice caps expose new opportunities and disrupt global trading routes. The effects of global warming on the Arctic Sea are only getting worse, claim observers. JAMSTEC hopes that the new vessel will enable scientists to travel to the North Pole and carry out winter-season experiments, found previously unreported in the Arctic Sea. Climatic changes have increased the region's strategic importance, prompting many other countries to send their own Arctic research icebreakers to the region. The keen arctic study can help to predict approaching typhoons and cold waves in Japan, believe many.

The latest vessel would be 128 metres long and 23 metres wide, with a displacement of 13,000 tonnes, according to JAMSTEC's plans. In comparison to Shirase, which can break 1.5-meter thick ice, it would be able to navigate across 1.2-meter thick ice at a speed of 3.0 knots. A helicopter, a robot, and an unmanned underwater vehicle will be on the new submarine. With a capacity to uphold 99, the main objective of the vessel would be to address observational operations.

"Change in the Arctic Sea is not a problem of a far-flung region," said Hiroyuki Enomoto, vice director of the National Institute of Polar Research. "Rather, it impacts the entire globe, including Japan." "It is important to observe the water temperature and the salt density below the sea ice, in particular, because they are related to the heat and moisture vented into the atmosphere and the ocean water cycle. That makes observation missions necessary in establishing accurate predictions about global warming and the sea ice melting. ", he added.

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For observations in the Arctic Waters, the department has focused on Mirai (1969), an oceanographic exploration vessel converted from a nuclear-powered vessel named Mutsu. However, Mirai is incapable of cracking ice (max positioning-79 degrees north latitude), rendering experiments difficult in the snow. Shirase was considered for Arctic studies in addition to its roundtrip to Antarctica by the science ministry. However, the plan was shelved because it would then drain every bit of energy from the crew members onboard and would also prevent the ship from being maintained.

The ministry formed a committee to study its Arctic Sea observation programme, which produced a report at the end of last year. It said that "it is necessary to construct and operate a vessel capable of breaking ice immediately" to perform experiments on the sea ice where there is no meteorological and ocean evidence.

According to Transport Ministry reports, the number of tankers and container ships transporting natural gas via the northern route is increasing. The US announced that it would purchase a new icebreaker for scientific purposes, claiming that the Arctic path will become the "Suez Canal of the twenty-first century." Russia and other Arctic coastal countries in Northern Europe have taken similar action.

China has expressed interest as well, dubbing the Arctic route "the Silk Road on Ice" and declaring itself a "nearby Arctic republic." China maintains two icebreakers and performs natural resource studies along the Northern Sea Route. In 2009, South Korea constructed an icebreaker to begin meteorological studies and natural resource analysis.

"The north polar region has become increasingly critical in terms of geopolitics, and each country has announced its key policy regarding the region one after another," the science ministry said in a recent report, which gave off a sense of increasing urgency.

Japan is planning to use the new vessel to perform sea ice observations and gather meteorological data first. Researchers can use radar to monitor the distribution and position of ice up to 10 kilometres away as part of the program. Scientists can measure ice density from both the top and bottom of the sea using an aerial drone and an autonomous underwater vehicle. Researchers can then decipher whether the vessel should breach the ice to move ahead or whether it can avoid the region, which is difficult to quantify from satellites.

Other countries have already collected similar data, but have not shared it, according to JAMSTEC. Japan will encourage other countries to share their data, JAMSTEC said.

"By having a research vessel that can break the ice, we will be able to convince other countries," said Eisuke Akane, who leads a JAMSTEC research group.