“Young Ice” fills 30-year-old gap
By Daniel Thoman
Sun Star Reporter
Marine scientists in the United States have wanted a low-impact Arctic research vessel for decades, and that ship is soon to be here. The Research Vessel (R/V) Sikuliaq, which means “young ice” in Inupiat, is approaching completion after decades of work. The $200 million ship is the smallest of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Global-Class ships, with a daily operating cost of almost $40,000. The $123 million devoted to the construction of the ship came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The rest came from the NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) fund. The ship is owned by the NSF but operated by UAF and will be docked at the Seward Marine Center
Sikuliaq is not dedicated to any branch of science in particular but is designed to be “highly flexible,” according to Dan Oliver, Director of the Seward Marine Center. It has a large aft deck with more than 3,500 square feet of working space, as well as two cranes and an A-frame support. It has multiple labs; the 1,000 square foot main lab is designed to be easily configured for numerous purposes. The ship has many sonar installations along the underside. It is also equipped with a mast on the bow that is loaded with meteorological equipment. The ship is capable of deploying remote operated vehicles (ROV), and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). The Sikuliaq is expected to be able to spend 300 days a year at sea and take 26 students and faculty at a time, with as many as 500 people annually.
Despite the array of research equipment, Sikuliaq’s primary usefulness comes from its capabilities in moving through ice. The ship is one of only five icebreakers in the United States, although Sikuliaq pales in comparison to the Coast Guard’s icebreakers, such as the Healy. Sikuliaq itself is only rated for operation in the marginal ice zones around both poles. Since the retirement of the Alpha Helix in 1996, no other ship has been designed for such work. The hull incorporates a wedge prow as well as two “reamers” that are designed to “shoulder” ice away from the ship. The Tractor-style z-drives, which give the ship superior ice propulsion, are protected by “stops.” These are designed to prevent ice from damaging the vulnerable propulsion systems.
Marinette Marine Corporation of Marinette, Wis. is building the Sikuliaq. The company was chosen for a wide variety of reasons, including their expertise in building ships with steel and aluminum hulls, which Marinette acquired through various military contracts. The hull’s design is expected to last 30 years before major replacements are required.