• The icebreaker Aurora Australia at dock in Hobart. Photo from Wikipedia.The icebreaker Aurora Australia at dock in Hobart. Photo from Wikipedia.

Breaking the ice of Antarctica – a University of Tasmania research project

Research at the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College aims to help prepare icebreaker crews for the conditions of the Antarctic by training them in a risk-free virtual environment.

Antarctic ice is often referred to as “honey ice” or “superglue” as it develops a tacky consistency due to snow settling on top – this makes it much hard to break than Arctic ice.  Pilots negotiating icy seas need to find the best path or “lead” through the ice.  Radar systems help, but they need to consider that often 90% of an iceberg is below the surface of the water, and that when a broken piece of ice re-freezes it is thicker than it was – two research vessels got stuck in the Antarctic ice just as recently as January 2014.

Icebreaker ships are both costly to run and unsurprisingly, experience a lot of wear and tear, which is why it is inefficient to train pilots on real ships. This is why, in a world first, maritime trainer and researcher Paul Brown will model P&O vessel Aurora Australis and the Antarctic sea ice for his project, Can Maritime Simulation Capabilities be Developed to Provide a Valid Antarctic Ice Training Environment?

Mr Brown said virtual training provided a raft of educational, economic and environmental benefits. "It would be too costly for the crew to do their ice training in Antarctica, the Aurora Australis uses 24,000 litres of fuel a day and that amount doubles to 45,000 litres a day when she is icebreaking. As well as that cost, there is the wear and tear on the ship and the impact on the environment to take into account."  A key part of the software will focus on risk management and contingency planning, as scenarios can be modelled through the software without any actual damage to the ship.

Margareta Lutzhoff, Professor of Nautical Studies at the AMC, who is supervising Mr Brown's research, said the project had four main elements – the ship modelling, ice modelling, land modelling and weather modelling – and the aim was to see how these interacted to make a valid whole. The ship modelling has been completed and was tested and validated in the main bridge simulator by the Aurora Australis captain and chief mate.

The next step is for Mr Brown to head to Antarctica to see first-hand how the vessel handles in different conditions and record this data for input into the simulated model.

The University of Tasmania is home to the Australian Maritime College and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and offers a wide range of programmes with maritime focus.  Contact Study Options if you would like to find out more about the programmes available.

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