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Ice scientist Jukka Tuhkuri embarks on seven-week expedition to the Antarctic – topics of study include the changing ice conditions and compressive forces on ships

As a result of climate change, ships will encounter new types of ice conditions, including warmer ice and ice floes that move along the waves. Finnish-built research vessel S.A. Agulhas II is equipped with sensors for measuring the interactions between the ship and ice.
S.A. Agulhas II in the Antarctic in 2015. Photo: Jukka Tuhkuri
Tuhkuri has experienced the Antarctic before and knows what to expect from the sea voyage. Penguins and seals can be seen close to the continent. Photo: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Aalto University professor and ice scientist Jukka Tuhkuri has embarked on a seven-week expedition to the Antarctic. Departing for the Weddell Sea from Cape Town aboard the research and supply ship S.A. Agulhas II, Tuhkuri's goal is to study the effects of climate change on sea ice conditions and how those effects change the ice loads ships must face.

A year ago, Tuhkuri and his colleagues conducted physical experiments at the Aalto Ice and Wave Tank which showed that there are differences between how warm and cold ice fracture.  When the air temperature hovers around zero degrees Celsius, ice becomes warm, and warm ice could pose unknown challenges to maritime traffic and marine structures.

‘Very little is known about warm ice. I’m excited to find out if we'll encounter conditions that could confirm the results of our experimental tests in nature,’ Tuhkuri said.

The expedition will also investigate the effect of compressive forces from sea ice on the ship’s structures. S.A. Agulhas II was commissioned by the South African government to serve as a research vessel in the Antarctic region. Built in Finland in 2012, the ship is equipped with sensors that measure the loads on the ship caused by sea ice.

Tuhkuri notes that studying ice loads on ships is growing ever more important for the safety of maritime traffic. ‘The warming climate is opening up new shipping routes – especially in the Arctic region – but it’s also changing sea ice and making ice conditions more difficult to predict,’ he explains. ‘In the future, ships will encounter stormier seas than before and different kinds of ice, such as ice floes that move along the waves.’

Storms, whales, icebergs – and albatrosses 

Tuhkuri is not new to research in the Antarctic, and he knows what to expect from the sea voyage.

'Spending weeks on a ship might sound like a mind-numbing exercise, but it's actually not at all dull. The sea is always beautiful. The Southern Atlantic is often stormy, and you might spot whales. Albatrosses and icebergs are signs that Antarctica isn't far off, and seals and penguins appear closer to the continent,’ he says.

'I hope the ice conditions will be favourable for my research goals and I can study ship-wave-ice interactions and measure the compressive forces on the ship hull', he added.

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