From “RRS James Clark Ross” to “Noosphere”. The ship-veteran of polar expeditions will continue its service


The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag was hoisted over the flagship of the Ukrainian research fleet – the former British icebreaker RRS James Clark Ross (JCR). This noteworthy event took place on August 30, 2021 −eleven days after its official purchase− in the port of Frederikshavn (Denmark) where the ship was located. It marks the starting of the return of Ukrainian science to the World Ocean as it unfolds a world of opportunities. With this vessel, Ukrainian researchers will have access to almost 90% of the bottom of the World Ocean, as a result, large-scale study and exploration in the Southern Ocean and possibly the beginning surveys in the Arctic will be feasible in time.

For the past three decades, the RRS James Clark Ross has fulfilled its role as a world-leading research platform for biological, oceanographic, and geophysical research providing insights into the scale and impacts of climate change in one of the most rapidly changing environments on the planet: Ocean. Named after Admiral Sir James Clark Ross, R.N., and launched by HM the Queen on the 1st of December 1990, the ship was built at Swan Hunters shipyard Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

As a prime marine research vessel, JCR contains some of Britain’s most advanced specifications and facilities for oceanographic research in both Antarctica and the Arctic. With 12 knots (22kmh) cruising speed, the vessel has the ability to break through first year ice 1m thick at 2 knots (3.6kmh). the vessel’s ice knife is positioned behind the rudder to protect the rudder and propeller if required to break ice when going in reverse. To assist passage through heavy-packed ice, a compressed air system rolls the ship from side to side freeing the passage. With two diesel engines develop a total of 8,500 shaft horsepower and a dynamo drive to generate electricity to operate an electric motor attached to the propeller, JCR has the ability to still apply torque (turning force) when pushing against ice or if slowed down. Under these circumstances a direct drive diesel could just stop – and possibly suffer damage in the process. The ship has a significantly clean hull with nothing sticking out that might get damaged or knocked off by the ice, however, this makes for a less stable passage in open waters. Its cooling system has a mechanism to prevent ice being sucked in and causing a blockage. Used warmed water is sprayed back over any ice blocks that may cause problems to help free up the flow when the ship moving through heavy ice.

The 99-meter, 5,372 GT research ship has an extremely low noise signature, allowing the deployment of sensitive acoustic gear. Series of laboratories and winch systems are furnished on board allowing scientific equipment to be deployed for analysis of water, biological specimens or other oceanographic data collected. The RRS James Clark Ross was part of the first international, multi-vessel survey to estimate the biomass of krill in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean – a figure still used today in krill management models. The ship is also a platform for deploying large-scale sediment coring technologies in previously unstudied locations, pushing coring technologies to its limits. The JCR also carries out some cargo and logistical work during the northern summer the JCR supports NERC research, largely in the Arctic. Each year the ship leaves the UK for the Antarctic laden with supplies for British Antarctic and sub-Antarctic bases. It stays in the Southern Ocean for the austral summer carrying out oceanographic and biological survey work in between supplying and re-supplying the bases and moving personnel around. Before the start of the Antarctic winter, it heads back to the UK again returning equipment, garbage to be disposed of and last but by no means least, returning Antarctic base members who have been away from the UK from just a few months to nearly two and a half years.

Rothera was the RRS James Clark Ross’s final call of the ship’s five-and-a-half-month mission to deliver scientific and operational staff to Antarctica, and to resupply the U.K. stations in Antarctica for another year. The vessel’s one final stop is its home port of the Falkland Islands to refuel and making the six-week journey back to the UK before it was purchased by Ukraine.  The 30 years old ship is designed for at least 50 years of use. With the proper use, it can be 25-30 years of work.

Arrived in Odessa on October 5, the ice-capable ship is a new asset for Ukraine and opens up new research opportunities for its National Antarctic Scientific Centre, in particular research into oceans and climate change in the polar regions. The acquisition of the ship comes ahead of the COP26 Conference in November, where representatives from every signatory party for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) come together to discuss climate change action. Additionally, the purchase of the icebreaker has a symbolic value for the Ukraine, as it is the second time that a UK research asset has transferred to Ukrainian research colleagues – the first being the transfer in 1996 of the former Faraday Station that is now known as Akademik Vernadsky Station. This research station was named after Volodymyr Ivanovich Vernadsky – a Soviet geochemist and mineralogist who is considered to be one of the founders of geochemistry and biogeochemistry. He is a distinguished scientist, the founder of the biosphere and noosphere doctrine, and the first President of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (1918). Logically supplement the research station, RRS James Clark Ross now has received a new name: Noosphere. Vernadsky described Noosphere as a philosophical concept to define how human consciousness and mental activity has influence on the biosphere (i.e., the total mass of living organisms, which process and recycle the energy and nutrients available from the environment), including its relation to planetary evolution. In regard to the Ukrainian scientific flagship, the name Noosphere refers to the realm of interaction between society and nature.

For the first time since independence, the Ukrainian scientific fleet is replenished with a new vessel. The oceanographic icebreaker will allow Ukraine to return to the study of the World Ocean after a long break, solve logistical problems at the Antarctic Akademik Vernadsky Station, expand the possibilities of seasonal expeditions, create research and logistics consortia with other countries, as well as conduct research not only in Antarctica but also in the Arctic and, if necessary, in other regions of the ocean. In the near future, the icebreaker will undergo the necessary clearance and maintenance procedures, after which its first voyage to the Akademik Vernadsky station with a new name and under the Ukrainian flag is planned on December.

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