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Oct 24, 2013 02:30 PM

North through the Arctic ice: Marinette sets new standard

Sikuliaq, the Alaska Region Research Vessel, has a sturdy working deck, a Baltic room for protection against the elements, and lots of lab space.

Sikuliaq, the Alaska Region Research Vessel, has a sturdy working deck, a Baltic room for protection against the elements, and lots of lab space.

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Marinette Marine is finally delivering what the American scientific community has always wanted: its own purpose-built research vessel that can sail through ice in the Arctic.

Previously, Arctic oceanographers needed to hitch a ride aboard a U.S. or Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker to gain access to the frozen frontier. In 2014, the 261-foot Sikuliaq will be ready for service as a full-time research vessel.

Owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Sikuliaq is tailor-made for oceanographic research, with plenty of room for scientists, laboratories and instrumentation. It will be available for fisheries surveys, geophysical mapping and ice and climate research, said Gary Smith, the university’s on-site project director at the Marinette, Wis., shipyard.

The A frame and Appleton cranes on the aft main work deck.

“The most unique feature of Sikuliaq is that it is ice-capable. The hull is a compromise between sea-keeping and ice-breaking,” Smith said. “It’s one of the only — if not the only — purpose-built polar research vessel for the academic community in the Arctic.”

The Inupiat word “sikuliaq” means young sea ice. Rated at Polar Class 5, the double-hull Alaska Region Research Vessel can break annual ice up to three feet thick. It will accommodate scientific missions of up to 45 days and can hold out for 60 days in an emergency.

For 40 years, the U.S. community of Arctic researchers — spearheaded through the University of Alaska — have proposed the construction of a purpose-built vessel for the region. Until now, scientific expeditions have needed invitations aboard the cutter Healy or Canada’s Louis S. St-Laurent while those vessels conduct other missions.

Ultimately, Sikuliaq’s construction was made possible by federal economic stimulus funds; NSF put the total cost at almost $200 million. It’s the foundation’s first new vessel since 1981 and is part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet.

As polar ice retreats, Sikuliaq gives researchers their own platform for studying the region firsthand, with forays into the ice itself.

Sikuliaq comes at a real opportune time for the scientific community,” said Dan Oliver, the university’s project manager. “It has the ability to operate in that marginal life zone. ... This expands tremendously the research window that the academic community has up there.”

The prominent foremast houses a scientific sensor platform.

Powering the voyages will be four MTU diesels — two V16s and two V12s — with a pair of Siemens electric motors. A Tees White Gill bow thruster and a pair of Wärtsilä’s recently developed Icepod z-drives achieve maneuvering. The engines have the flexibility to shift and shed loads.

“By having different-size generators, you can choose what you want to have on line to operate with maximum efficiency and fuel efficiency,” said Dale Jalkanen, Marinette’s senior program manager. “The ship is extremely maneuverable, not just for station-keeping but also in tight quarters like when you’re coming into the dock.”

The captain can control the ship from an aft conning station, an advantage during ice-breaking.

The shallow-butt hull with ice wedge was a custom design by Glosten Associates of Seattle. “This is a relatively small ship to be able to take into the ice, so the thought was to give it every advantage you could give it,” said Glosten engineer Dirk Kristensen. “That’s why we decided to use z-drives, and the hull form is characteristic of modern ice-going vessels.”

Reamers create a wider channel on each side of the ship, improving the captain’s ability to clear ice.

“The side of the vessel forward flares out to aid your maneuverability. It’s wider than the stern, so the stern is able to swing, and it allows for a smaller turning radius,” Kristensen said.

Sikuliaq is one of the first ships in the world to be equipped with Wärtsilä’s new Icepod 2500s. The can-mounted thrusters break ice at 300 rpm.

“It’s a combination of those reamers down the side and those curvatures, and with the z-drives, there will be a high degree of maneuverability in the ice,” said Sikuliaq’s master, Capt. Mike Hoshlyk. “And with the propulsion system, you can kind of create configurations and use the thrusters to maintain that opening.”

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