July 17th 2017

Seeking greater investment in the Arctic ocean

A drilling vessel (the Vidar Viking) and icebreakers (Oden and Sovetskiy Soyuz) in action during an IODP-ACEX drilling expedition Photo: Martin Jakobsson.
Work is now underway to fund the research project "Geosciences in the northern Arctic" (GoNorth), which will survey and explore the northern part of the Arctic Ocean. Many larger research institutions in Norway will cooperate in the project, and it there are plans to invited other countries.

Twelve Norwegian research institutions have now joined together to launch the GoNorth project, which will explore the ocean floor and the geology of the northern most ocean regions. The project may become the one of the largest contributions to research on the Arctic Ocean in recent years.

The project will examine topics such as the opening of the Arctic Ocean. There is a basin in the Arctic Ocean that scientists currently know very little about. Participants of GoNorth will explore the seabed, geological structures in the sub-seafloor, as well as land areas, from Svalbard in the south to the submarine spreading ridge, the Gakkel Ridge, in the north. The Gakkel Ridge is a northward continuation of the mid-Atlantic Ridge that separates the Amundsen and Nansen basins. In 2003, deep sea vents, known as a 'black smokers' was found on the ridge. These are known to be breeding grounds for a myriad of life forms. In addition, the project will provide new knowledge about climate history over the last 50 million years.

In the Arctic Ocean is a large unexplored basin. This figure above shows some of the areas will examine the GoNorth. Illustration: MCR, NGU
Morten Smelror.

During the course of the project, new technologies will also be developed and tested. Other research disciplines that could benefit from joining the research vessel expeditions in the Arctic Ocean are also welcome.

"The project will support basic research within geology, which in turn can have great importance for the management and use of the natural resources in this vast area. Expanding the geological knowledge of the northern regions will also help  us understand how the climate and the environment in the Arctic Ocean have changed over geologic time, and predict changes that may occur in the future," says Morten Smelror (NGU director, and  Chairman of the GoNorth Steering Committee)

A new area of Norway

In 2009, the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) recognized Norway's claim to area in the Arctic Ocean, an area the size of United Kingdom.

"We have a responsibility to explore the areas we have claimed. Now Norway has received clarification of its claim ocean territories in the North, which means we have more ocean territory and land. We have a duty to manage and explore this territory, contends Smelror. 

In 2011, the Stoltenberg Government had called for more exploration in this new territory in Norway's continental shelf.

Gunnar Sand. Photo: SINTEF

"There is limited knowledge of the area because the exploration of the Arctic Ocean has had low priority in Norway. There has been a general perception among scientists that we are in the process of being stranded in this area," says GoNorth project manager Director Gunnar Sand from SINTEF. Sand is the former Director of the University Centre in Svalbard, and has extensive experience with project management for research in the Arctic.

International cooperation

Conducting research in the Arctic Ocean is very demanding and expensive. Large parts of the Arctic Ocean are ice covered, so large icebreakers and advanced equipment will often be required. The estimated cost of the GoNorth project is about a half a billion Norwegian crowns.

"We depend on an international cooperation to help finance the GoNorth project. Sweden, Denmark and Germany have invested heavily in research in the North, and we are in good dialogue with them.  Several Asian countries have also shown interest: we are in discussions with institutions in both Japan and Korea," says Morten Smelror, Chairman of the GoNorth Steering Committee.

The pilot project was completed in June and a grant application has been submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for  11.4 million Norwegian crowns, as part of the Arctic 2030 program. Aside from this, each expedition to the Arctic Ocean must be funded by  the Norwegian government, participant organizations and international collaborators.

A unified research environment

The research project is a collaboration between a broad range of Norwegian research institutions. The University of Bergen, University of Oslo, the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University Centre in Svalbard, Geological Survey of Norway, SINTEF, NORSAR, NERSC, UNI Research, Akvaplan-niva and the Norwegian Polar Institute have all joined the project.

Initally, GoNorth will run for three years, but the project leader, Gunnar Sand, hopes that it will contintue longer.

"We have a vision of the project lasting 5-10 years, with regular expeditions to the Arctic Ocean," says Sand.