Why ePIcenter?- Aker Arctic
An emerging trade route
Ice in the Arctic regions is retreating and getting thinner and thinner year by year, causing increased interest among shipping industry stakeholders to utilize these regions and seek new shipping routes. In particular, utilization of the Northern Sea Route (NSR, or “North-East Passage”) for shipping has increased during recent years.
The NSR provides a significantly shorter marine route between Asia / North America and Europe than the most commonly-used passage through the Suez Canal. Today, ship traffic in the NSR predominantly relates to oil and gas mega-projects located along the route over Northern Russia. The cargoes, mainly oil and LNG from these projects, head to western and eastern NSR segments. However, particularly during less severe ice seasons, direct cargo ship passages throughout the NSR have also been made.
Challenges of Arctic navigation
Even if ice conditions in the Arctic are becoming steadily more favourable for shipping, ice still presents very specific challenges. In the summer season, when large areas may seem ice-free, dangerous ice floes may exist among the waves in open water. Hitting such pieces at high speed may cause damage to ships which are not properly strengthened for such incidences. And naturally, during the ice season, ice thicknesses may be substantial and compressive, causing significant hindrance to a ship’s smooth passage. This correspondingly decreases the ship’s transit speeds, causes delays and increases fuel consumption.
Through the Arctic routes, the ice cover is dynamic: it drifts, driven by water currents and winds. Ice compresses and forms ridges and ridge-fields; typically the most difficult obstacles for ships. Conversely, open water leads can form at other locations, allowing free passage.
Although it is evident that ice conditions in any specific region can vary, finding and applying easier routes through them would enable decreased travel time, fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.
The disadvantages and potential dangers associated with increased ice resistance and accidental collisions with ice floes can be managed by utilizing appropriate ship designs. However, predicting ice condition behaviour and, consequently, finding easier routes through varying ice conditions has remained almost impossible. Satellite images, when available, do provide information about surrounding ice conditions. However, their interpretation and utilization for up-to-date navigation guidance is difficult, and requires expertise which is not always at hand. In addition, applicable satellite images are typically very large, thus their timely delivery to remote Arctic locations is limited.
Aker Arctic is now developing its IT-based services to assist ships and ship operators to navigate the varying ice conditions of the Arctic safely, and plan shipping activities more economically.These services are built on GIS (Geographical Information System) -based ice information gathered by satellites. The collected data provides accurate time and location-specific ice information, thus describing real ice conditions along the shipping routes with the highest quality available today. Furthermore, it can be anticipated that the amount and quality of this data will increase in future as the number of observation satellites grows.
Route simulation monitoring performance
In the first stage, a software, simulating a ship’s navigation in icy waters in the most realistic manner, is developed. The algorithm of this software reads GIS ice data and, together with ship- specific data, calculates the ship’s speed profile along predefined routes. If needed, the ship’s power can be varied during the simulated voyage, or a target speed of the ship can be set in order to calculate required power usages during the voyage. As a result, information such as transit time, fuel consumption, minimum speed and power, etc. of the ship throughout its intended route is gained.
Simulations can be repeated for different months or years or, to compare the feasibility of different shipping alternatives, with different ships. Naturally, alternative route options between the same origin and destination can be studied and analysed. The idea is also to further develop the software and, if needed, add more features to simulations based on the needs of service clients. The results of the simulations and associated analyses provide essential data for ship operators to plan their shipping along Arctic routes.
Online route optimization
In the second stage, Aker Arctic intends to further develop simulations for online “route optimization”. In principle, the fundamental core of this service is the same as with the transit simulations described above, but this time the simulation algorithms use up-to-date ice data and calculate/update an optimal route through varying ice conditions. The need for this service is based on the fact that the shortest, most direct route to a destination is rarely the most economical when sailing through ice. This service thus provides continuous guidance for a ship’s officers to navigate to the destination most efficiently and safely during the voyage.
It will provide information about areas of particularly difficult and dangerous ice conditions (e.g. locations where the ice conditions are compressive, or areas where the probability of meeting multi-year ice is high).
The service is also capable of utilizing ice condition predictions when such data from the required areas are available.
A modular approach
The development of the above-described services is based on both an increasingly-available amount of ice data regarding Arctic ice and Aker Arctic’s extensive knowledge of the ice performance capabilities of different ships. The fundamental concept is to build a “platform” for additional services to be developed and improved continuously.
For example, marine wildlife protected areas could be included in the transit simulations and on-line route optimizations so that such regions can be avoided when needed. To further improve the accuracy of simulations, the service can be complemented with different monitoring extensions.
These extensions can be installed to measure and record realized navigational parameters (location, speed, manoeuvres, etc.), ship-specific performance (power, thrust, ice loads, etc.), as well as environmental factors encountered (ice, wind, air temperature, etc.) during the voyages. This all contributes to and enables continuous improvement of the ship-specific service. Most importantly, based on measured and analysed data from different events during the voyages, it enables service users to improve their own Arctic shipping practices towards improved efficiency and safety.
ePicenter provides Aker Arctic with a solid foundation upon which to develop the above mentioned services; the fundamental parts, service structure and key algorithms, can be generated and fully tested before commercialization. By being a partner in ePicenter, Aker Arctic also offers the opportunity for logistical experts, future stakeholders and clients to share and exchange ideas regarding services to be developed. In contributing to the ePicenter-project, Aker Arctic's target is to develop the services to the commercialization stage.
Aker Arctic Inc. specializes in the development, design, engineering and testing of ice-class vessels, related technologies, and ice-bound harbour consulting. Our experience and expertise have earned us a world-wide reputation for cutting-edge, highest-quality Arctic shipping solutions. www.akerarctic.fi.