A vertical ‘Polar Pod’ laboratory plans to drift round Antarctica

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2021-06-03 13:57:55

French explorer and environmentalist Jean-Louis Etienne has spent the final 10 years designing a scientific vessel able to braving the terrifying waves and winds discovered there.

His floating laboratory, known as the Polar Pod, will stand 100 meters excessive and weigh 1,000 tons. The construction will probably be towed horizontally from the east coast of South Africa to the highly effective present surrounding Antarctica. It should then “flip” vertically by filling 150-ton seawater ballast tanks, a characteristic impressed by the US oceanographic platform FLIP.

The vessel has no engine and will probably be pushed by the Antarctic Circumpolar Present, drifting at about 1 knott per hour. The highest of the construction — 20 meters above the water — is the place the crew will dwell, sleep and work. The submerged portion retains it regular. “It’s 80 meters under sea stage, mounted in very calm water — that is why it’s extremely secure,” Etienne tells CNN.

The plan is to “orbit” Antarctica twice in three years and accumulate knowledge on how people have impacted the Southern Ocean, explains Etienne. Whereas the principle focus will probably be on measuring the ocean’s capability to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2), the Polar Pod will probably be outfitted with sensors to measure acidity and wave dynamics, amongst different issues.

“This very giant space of chilly water throughout Antarctica is the biggest ocean carbon sink of the planet,” he says — however we do not understand how its means to soak up carbon dioxide adjustments all year long. “The steadiness of the Polar Pod will permit the scientists to get this info.”

Because the construction will probably be silent, it is going to be in a position to make use of hydrophones — underwater microphones — to report the “acoustic signature” attribute of various sea creatures, from krill to whales, and carry out a census of marine life, explains Etienne. He additionally plans for the vessel to assist calibrate satellites for NASA and the European House Company.

Six wind turbines will energy the sensors and on-board laboratory, and knowledge will probably be transmitted to researchers in real-time. The crew additionally plans to transmit dwell broadcasts and lectures from the Polar Pod.

Seawater ballast tanks will help "flip" the structure and keep it steady.

There will probably be eight individuals on board at any given time — 4 sailors tasked with navigating (and deploying sails to keep away from icebergs), three scientists, and a cook dinner. Each two months a ship will carry provides, a brand new crew, and generally Etienne himself. The physician and explorer, now 74, has undertaken quite a few expeditions to distant polar areas. He hauled a sled on a solo overland journey to the North Pole in 1986 and crossed the Arctic Ocean in a hot-air balloon in 2010.

Development of the Polar Pod has not but begun however will probably be funded by the French authorities. French oceanographic establishment Ifremer will put the contract to construct the vessel out to tender.

Etienne is within the means of elevating funds for a three-year expedition he hopes will start in 2024. He says he isn’t in a position to disclose prices or how a lot cash has been raised so far.

In good firm

The Polar Pod won’t be the one construction floating within the Southern Ocean. During the last six years the Southern Ocean Carbon and Local weather Observations and Modeling venture (SOCCOM) has deployed 200 robotic floats with superior sensors to measure oxygen, daylight, chlorophyll, nitrate and acidity.

The floats seem like fuel canisters and performance a bit like drifting submarines. They’ve a parking depth of 1,000 meters, and drop to 2,000 meters each 10 days to make a full profile as much as the floor and beam the information to scientists.

Previous to the SOCCOM venture, the Southern Ocean was “practically undiscovered” with just some ship tracks throughout it, oceanographer and local weather scientist Joellen Russell, of the College of Arizona, tells CNN.

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“One out of eight molecules of CO2 that’s added to the environment is absorbed by the ocean round Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, inside a yr,” says Russell. “That is the ocean to review. That is the important part of our Earth’s local weather system.”

Russell provides that the Southern Ocean has not been higher studied as a result of it is away and “catastrophically” harmful.

Whereas the robotic floats are dotted throughout the Southern Ocean, mooring a vessel is difficult within the Antarctic Circumpolar Present. “Each time the oceanographic group has deployed a mooring within the ACC it has been broken or ripped away within the winter,” explains Russell.

Understanding an necessary carbon sink

The Polar Pod has a major function to play in including to our understanding of how a lot CO2 is within the ocean, explains ocean biogeochemist Peter Landschützer, of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany.

“We all know that the Southern Ocean is essential for our local weather … we additionally wish to perceive the way it adjustments in time because the local weather adjustments,” he says. “We have now on the one hand probably the most necessary carbon sinks, alternatively, now we have little or no measures to look at it.”

Different ocean analysis vessels have have journeyed round Antarctica. In August 2019, an unmanned boat known as a Saildrone accomplished the primary autonomous circumnavigation of the Southern Ocean. Regardless of a run-in with an iceberg that destroyed a few of its sensors, the Saildrone was in a position to accumulate oceanic and atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements.
Saildrone 1020 approaches Point Bluff, New Zealand, after finishing the first Saildrone Antarctic circumnavigation in 196 days, in 2019.

The crew behind it says it plans to deploy a fleet of Saildrones to measure the alternate of carbon dioxide between ocean and environment within the Antarctic Circumpolar Present.

In response to Landschützer, the Polar Pod will have the ability to present a extra detailed circumpolar view of the carbon cycle as a result of it has each a seawater CO2 sensor and an eddy flux system — a specialised instrument to measure how a lot CO2 and warmth is being transferred between the environment and the ocean.

Landschützer says measuring the ocean-atmosphere CO2 alternate each instantly and not directly is a large profit. “I do not know any expedition [circumnavigating the Southern Ocean] that does that.”

Russell agrees: “I am delighted, as a result of these flux measurements from contained in the Antarctic Circumpolar Present are completely important,” she says. “We do not have these measurements.”

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Nonetheless, she worries that the vessel might not be sturdy sufficient to face the hostile circumstances, significantly within the winter, mentioning that assist will probably be days or perhaps weeks away if it encounters any setbacks.

“The Pod goes to be in actually the fiercest climate on planet Earth,” she says. “I think about that we will see one thing we have by no means seen earlier than, and have individuals and video in addition to measurements of the extraordinary change. I simply want they’d extra mobility, simply in case.”

Landschützer says that a greater understanding of the Southern Ocean will assist to observe the success of Paris Settlement worldwide local weather targets.

He provides that it is encouraging to see such modern concepts to sort out the distinctive issues posed by this ocean.

“The Southern Ocean brings the perfect out of a scientist due to the challenges,” he says. “You possibly can’t do it the way in which we have all the time carried out it, so now we have to provide you with one thing new if we wish to perceive it.”

In addition to offering very important knowledge, Etienne says the mission is an eye catching method to attract consideration to the devastating influence of world warming within the polar area.

“We’ll be the instructor from the classroom far, far-off,” he says.

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