FEATURE | French consortium to develop floating Arctic research station

FEATURE | French consortium to develop floating Arctic research station

Photo: Tara Ocean Foundation

A consortium of scientific and engineering organisations based in France has embarked on a project with the objective of developing and operating a dedicated research station that will help provide a better understanding of the remote Arctic Ocean and the extreme environment within.

Despite the vastness of the region, many of its aspects remain generally unknown. For instance, it is unknown how the organisms living there cope with the extreme seasonality of light, temperature, sea ice, and how they survive the long polar night, which lasts for almost half the year. In recent decades, the unique ecosystem has also become increasingly threatened by pollution and temperature changes.

The decision was then made to deploy a purpose-built research station to help scientists conduct more comprehensive studies of the otherwise inhospitable region. The solution agreed upon is a drifting polar scientific base named the Tara Polar Station after research non-profit Tara Ocean Foundation.

Built for extended stays in the Arctic

Designed by Tara Ocean in collaboration with French architect Oliver Petit, the completed Tara Polar Station will have a length of 26 metres, a beam of 13.8 metres, a draught of 2.3 metres, a maximum height of 7.9 metres, and sleeping accommodations for up to 20 people. To provide safe and comfortable onboard conditions, the hull will have a thickness of 18 mm while a desalinator with a rated capacity of 300 litres per hour will purify seawater for consumption by embarked personnel.

Photo: Tara Ocean Foundation

The station will also have a deadweight capacity of 175 tonnes and capacity for 125 cubic metres of hydrotreated vegetable oil.

Construction of the Tara Polar Station was recently approved. A total of €18 million (US$18.4 million) is being invested in the development of the station; of that total, €13 million (US$13.33 million) has been provided by the French government. Other international organisations have also expressed support for the project. These include the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Capgemini Engineering, the Veolia Foundation, BNP Paribas, and classification society Bureau Veritas.

Completion of the unique research station, which will become France’s main presence in the Arctic, is scheduled for 2024.

A French-led international collaboration

Tara Ocean intends to have the research station embark scientists from all over the world on multiple successive “drifts” lasting 18 months each from its initial deployment in 2025 until 2045. Climatologists, biologists, physicists, glaciologists, oceanographers, artists, physicians, journalists, and sailors will work and live together aboard the vessel to make observations and conduct experiments on-site under temperatures ranging from minus 20 to minus 45 degrees Celsius in the heart of the polar night in winter.

The French mission already brings together the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique; CNRS), the French Polar Institute, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, the French National Centre for Space Studies, Laval University in Quebec, the University of Maine in the United States, the Swiss Polar Institute, Alfred Wegener Institute: Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, and the Arctic Research Centre in Denmark to name a few. Tara Ocean said these institutions will develop a multidisciplinary scientific approach in order to discover the many secrets of the still little-known environment.

Another concept design of the floating research station (Photo: Tara Ocean Foundation)

The project team hopes to achieve the following objectives:

  • Improve knowledge of biodiversity on Earth by exploring regions that are otherwise inaccessible today.
  • Reveal the unique adaptations that enabled life in different forms to thrive in this extreme environment.
  • Analyse the consequences of melting sea ice and pollution on this unique and fragile ecosystem and others like it.
  • Observe Arctic fish stocks and the impact of the arrival of more temperate species
  • Discover new molecules/species/processes with new potential applications.

A total of 10 consecutive missions are planned for the 20 years that the station will be operational. Each mission will be conducted by 20 people plus two dogs. Tara Ocean expects that the station will spend 90 per cent of the time on deployments locked in pack ice.

Click here for more news stories, features, and vessel reviews as part of this month’s focus on the research and training sector.

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