Northern Sea Route ice situation measurement system tested on board nuclear icebreaker 

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As part of the infrastructure development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), an onboard measurement system was tested last month aboard the nuclear icebreaker Ural in the Ob Bay of the Kara Sea, according to an announcement by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.  

The NSR via the Arctic Ocean, and which runs along Russia’s northern coastline, is the shortest route between East Asian and Western European ports. The Kara Sea is on the NSR.  

Rosatom operates nuclear powered icebreakers that help keep the NSR open for navigation. The company is constructing icebreakers under its “Project 22220” programme, which will help keep the Northern Sea Route open for year-round shipping. In addition, Rosatom is equipping the NSR facilities, building port infrastructure, and developing transit.      

A Rosatom statement said the onboard measurement system tested aboard Ural “makes it possible to improve the accuracy of the ice situation forecasts to ensure the safety of navigation on the Northern Sea Route. The onboard measurement system is a constituent element of the NSR digital ecosystem, which is being created by Rosatom NSR Administration.” 

In addition to the measurement equipment, the system includes a single platform for digital services and a data fund, as well as an aircraft capable of taking off from an icebreaker and monitoring the ice situation within a 200 km radius, the statement said.  

“The NSR digital ecosystem is being created as part of the federal project ‘Development of the Northern Sea Route’ within a comprehensive plan for the main infrastructure expansion. In two years, the federal budget will allocate 3.8 billion rubles for the development and launch of the NSR digital ecosystem. The work is planned to be completed in 2024, while the final commissioning is planned for 2025,” Rosatom NSR Administration Deputy Director, Maxim Kulinko, said in a statement. 

Four measurement systems have been installed on board the Ural – two on the sides, one in the bow and one in the stern. The values of five parameters of the ice situation are measured in real time. The bow equipment measures ice concentration and ridging, while the side equipment measures ice thickness and the equipment in the stern measures the width of the shipping channel made by the icebreaker and the speed of convergence of its edges, the statement said. 

The ice concentration is evaluated by a mathematical algorithm according to the method specially developed for onboard measurement systems. The data from all four measurement units with reference to geographic coordinates and time at each specific measurement point are automatically transmitted to the icebreaker captain, which allows him to quickly make decisions that increase the safety of vessel escorting, and to the Marine Operations HQs of the NSR General Administration to draw up-to-date ice maps and issue recommendations on the NSR passage to ships, the statement added.  

Rosatom said the Arctic environment cannot affect the measuring equipment which is placed in a hermetically sealed thermostable case ensuring reliable operation of the measurement system at temperatures down to 50 degrees below zero. 

According to the company, such systems to improve the accuracy of ice situation forecasts will become an integral part of the NSR digital ecosystem in the near future. This requires solving the problem of parallel processing of a whole range of heterogeneous parameters such as the number and relative position of the rescue fleet vessels, hydrographic data, recommended NSR routes, weather conditions and the actual coordinates of ships, including icebreakers.  

“As a result, users will be offered a client-oriented service greatly facilitating the travel time estimation and optimizing the trajectory along a given route,” the statement said. 

Based on the test results obtained on board the nuclear icebreaker Ural, the developer of the onboard measurement system will prepare to start the serial production of the equipment with which it is planned to equip more than 30 Arctic vessels, the statement added.