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Ice research on the RSV Nuyina

The research capabilities of an icebreaking ship would not be complete without the ability to conduct sea ice and ice sheet research.

Many of the needs of glaciology research overlap with other scientific disciplines on the ship, as the Antarctic cryosphere has strong interactions and connections with the atmosphere, ocean and marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

These needs include access to satellite imagery, weather and wave radar data, meteorological observations, multibeam imagery of the seafloor, atmospheric sampling, and biological and oceanic data (check out Nuyina’s Nerve Centre).

Among the more specific requirements, however, is the need to use the ship as a base from which to deploy people or instruments by helicopter to remote locations on the Antarctic ice sheet or within the sea ice zone.

Other airborne operations include ‘remote sensing’ of ice thickness and snow cover using specially-equipped helicopters or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Scientists can also deploy locally on to the sea ice from an access ramp off the ship or by watercraft or helicopter. Once on the ice they collect ice cores, measure the temperature, thickness and other properties of sea ice and snow, and investigate its chemistry and the ecosystem it supports.

RSV Nuyina also has a retractable boom, extending about 10 metres in front of the ship, on which to mount sensors. These sensors include an electromagnetic induction, laser altimeter and snow radar sensor package. As the ship travels, this sensor suite provides real-time information on snow and ice thickness that enhances ship navigation and planning of on-ice field experiments.

Ice profile data from the sensor also improves knowledge of the thickness distribution of Antarctic sea ice and snow cover and helps to calibrate satellite estimates of sea ice thickness.

Scientists collecting samples on the sea ice, beside the Aurora Australis.
Like its predecessor Aurora Australis (pictured), RSV Nuyina provides a platform for glaciologists and biologists to access the sea ice. Photo: Caitlin Gionfriddo
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