Australia’s newest — and the world’s most advanced — icebreaker is set to arrive in Tasmania at the weekend, paving the way for future Antarctic expeditions.
The 160 metre-long craft is in the final stages of a maiden Southern Ocean voyage and due to arrive on Saturday in Hobart, where Antarctic and Southern Ocean researchers are eagerly awaiting it.
“[It’s] like Disneyland for scientists,” is how Australian Antarctic Division chief scientist professor Nicole Webster describes the vessel.
Named the RSV Nuyina — a Tasmanian Aboriginal word meaning “southern lights” — the boat cost $529 million to build; it has a commitment from the government for research and exploration worth $1.9 billion over 30 years.
Webster said the investment matched the importance of what research could glean from the Antarctic about the world climate.
“With the southern polar regions among the most rapidly changing places on the planet, our science needs to understand how the ecosystem functions to manage fisheries and avoid and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Webster said.
“The Southern Ocean is the great connector, driving currents, sinking carbon, and supporting unique wildlife.”
Scientists are excited about a ‘moon pool’ that opens through the ship to deploy equipment when in ice, a ‘wet well’ that can process 5000 litres of seawater in a minute, and a trawl deck that carries winches that tow nets deploying deep-sea cameras and other instruments.
It also has a tongue-like gangway at the bow that can measure sea ice before it’s disturbed, as well as an array of labs.
The vessel is capable of deploying a wide range of vehicles, including helicopters, landing barges and amphibious trucks.
Webster said Nuyina would support a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates physical, biological and chemical sciences.
The boat was handed over from its European builders in the Netherlands in August and had been 10 years in the making.
Federal environment minister Sussan Ley said its arrival on Saturday would be a “landmark”.
“From the moment the ship arrives work will commence preparing for her first journey south later this year and her final commissioning,” she said.
It follows engineers from Australia’s Antarctic Division completing a two-year project last month to build a 400-kilogram drill that will be able to extract a scientifically significant ice core in Antarctica.