The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) is to sponsor a first-of-its kind expedition to the North Pole that will see a hovercraft collect geological data in the extreme north of the Arctic Sea.
The 39-foot long, 19-foot wide hovercraft, called the Sabvabaa, will this summer engage in activities such as the mapping of the geology of the Lomonosov Ridge – a subsea structure near the North Pole that extends across the entire Arctic Ocean from Russia to Greenland and Canada, and which was formed 65 million years ago.
The NPD announced Tuesday that it is providing financial support for the expedition, while the University of Bergen and research institute The Nansen Centre are contributing equipment and personnel. The expedition, led by Professor Yngve Henriksen, is scheduled to take place between July and September this year.
For the past four summers, the Sabvabaa hovercraft has acquired data in areas north of the ice edge near Svalbard – an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean that forms the northernmost part of Norwegian territory.
In this new expedition, Sabvabaa will not only measure the thickness of the sea ice near the Lomonosov Ridge but will also acquire seismic data and take geological samples from the seabed.
The expedition is expected to help the NPD understand the geology of bedrock in the northernmost Barents Sea – where there are plans to drill and extract oil and gas. The NPD believes that although much of this bedrock has been eroded over time, the same kind of rock will have been preserved in the Lomonosov Ridge.
"If we are to understand what was once there, we have to know as much as possible. Geological samples from the Lomonosov Ridge can therefore tell us what happened in the Barents Sea," said Harald Brekke, a senior geologist at the NPD, in a statement.
Meanwhile, the NPD wants to test the hovercraft's equipment during the expedition, with a view to using it on other mapping assignments in the north. Previously, only icebreakers could be used close to the North Pole.
"Chartering an icebreaker costs about a half million NOK ($85,000) a day. A hovercraft costs far less than a tenth of that," added Brekke.
(Photo: Yngve Kristoffersen)
A former engineer, Jon Mainwaring is an experienced journalist who has written about the technology, engineering and energy industries. Email Jon at email@example.com.