FRAM – High North Research Center for Climate and Environment

Digital edition 2023

May prevent a new Titanic disaster

With homemade plastic GPS boxes in their luggage, researchers set out on an expedition to measure the movement of icebergs in the Arctic. The goal was to provide better forecasts in an area where traffic is increasing and sea ice is melting.

By: Amalie Kvame Holm // Norwegian Meteorological Institute

These homemade little boxes give researchers valuable information about how sea ice moves. Photo: Martina Idzanovic / Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Less sea ice makes parts of the Arctic more accessible. At present, Arctic sea traffic mainly involves the shipment of raw materials such as fish, metals, and timber, but cruise tourism has also intensified. When the ice melts, the risk of encountering icebergs from melting and calving glaciers increases.

“Our measurements can contribute to better forecasting of ice and ice floes in the area. Icebergs can do a great deal of damage to vessels, and our little GPS boxes are designed to behave like icebergs. If we can simulate how icebergs move, it will be easier to forecast when they may pose a threat.”

Martina Idzanovic, researcher at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
Icebergs like this can pose a major risk to ships sailing in the Arctic. Photo: William Joseph Copeland / Norwegian Meteorological Institute

A high-tech message in a bottle

The little boxes weigh less than a kilogramme and are about 10 by 10 centimetres. They might not look very special, but they are tailormade for the mission.

“I built 15 boxes before departure, and there was a lot of excitement about whether they would float at all! But 12 of them are now in operation and send us data about ocean waves and currents every two hours,” says Idzanovic.

For six months, they are expected to float around in the Barents Sea and the Fram Strait along the marginal ice zone. They will follow the Norwegian coastline, pass the Russian border and could end up in Svalbard. They may also freeze to ice floes and move even further. Idzanovic tracks their day-by-day movements on a map.

“It is very satisfying to see that they work so well. They have already moved several hundred kilometres and work a bit like a high-tech message in a bottle.”

Sea ice concentration from TOPAZ and Barents-2.5 ocean and sea ice models (area within the red dotted line), ranging from 0 (no ice) to 1 ice-covered. Green and red solid lines represent drift paths of the boxes accumulated over time, from deployment in late spring to 4 July 2022. Green lines show the paths of boxes deployed in open ocean, and red lines show those of boxes deployed on sea ice floes. Orange dots are drifters deployed on top of icebergs. The models show the sea ice concentration at midnight 30 April 2022. Map: Martina Idzanovic / Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Less ice means increased risk

The expedition was organised under CIRFA, the Centre for Integrated Remote Sensing and Forecasting for Arctic Operations, led by UiT The Arctic University of Norway, which aims to monitor and forecast conditions in the Arctic. When sea ice melts as a result of climate change, new areas become available for shipping, but this can be risky.

“Good sea and ice forecasts are essential for planning safe journeys through the Arctic, but they are also important in the event of oil spills or rescue operations,” says Idzanovic.

Read more about:

Want to read the magazine?

Download the PDF-version of Fram Forum 2023