A team of DTA scientists is on a mission to help mitigate one of the biggest risks to vessels travelling in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea; the threat of hitting an undetected ice-berg.
A preliminary ice detection trial at Tasman Lake in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park was recently carried out by five DTA specialists and one Royal NZ Navy Combat Systems Specialist, with support from the Department of Conservation (DOC) and local tour boat operator Glacier Explorers.
The five day trial was undertaken to test current and new ice detection systems, before a full vessel based trial on HMNZS AOTEAROA on its first voyage to the Antarctic in January 2022.
Tasman Lake is a large glacier lake with floating pieces of ice and also has a lake shore suitable for installing temporary sensors, making it the ideal testing ground.
Floating pieces of ice, which are often too small to see at a distance but large enough to cause substantial damage, pose a very real threat to the success of NZDF maritime operations in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea.
There have been multiple collisions with icebergs in the past 15 years in Antarctic waters. Two recent incidents include vessels Xue Long (Snow Dragon) and Explorer. In 2019 Xue Long, a Chinese Polar Research Ship, sustained significant damage after hitting an iceberg in foggy conditions, while in 2007 the Canadian Cruise Ship MS Explorer sank after ploughing into an icy mass. More than 100 passengers and crew were successfully rescued before the ship went down.
It is hoped sensor-based ice detection, coupled with sea ice forecasting, will reduce or even prevent future incidents.
The AOTEAROA trial will involve ice detection sensors as well as drones, ice tracking devices, atmospheric measurements and data collection and is expected to take around two days to complete.
The recent Tasman Trial has meant the team has been able to thoroughly test all systems allowing detailed planning for the AOTEAROA trial.