By Keith Soal | It is a wonderful and mysterious part of the ocean in which we sail. An area which has captivated the imaginations of explorers and scientists for many decades. We could not have chosen a more majestic vessel for this adventure to the north. The German research vessel Polarstern has a unique character steeped in a rich history of innovative scientific research. And is brought to life by the adventurous, passionate and eccentric spirit of the scientists and crew on board. It is a most inspiring environment in which to live and work. There is a genuine passion for the environment and a desire to decipher its intricate truths. There is a tangible sense that we are all contributing towards something bigger than ourselves, sharing a dream of greater insight and understanding.
As a team of two researchers from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, we are here to learn more about the dynamics of ship-ice interaction. There is currently a large effort towards developing numerical models for the prediction of various ice failure modes and the associated forces.
As mechanical engineers we dream of designing innovative structures and machines which can, hopefully, improve the world around us. Research vessels provide such a platform for scientists to conduct important research in the oceans. The opportunity is therefore to improve certain aspects of ship design through a better understanding of the physical mechanisms involved. The aim of our research is to create a data driven model of the dynamic response of the Polarstern in order to estimate the ice forces using a novel inverse technique.
Our vision is to use this model for structural health monitoring and damage detection. Whereby the Captain and his officers could view real time information in the bridge regarding the measured ice forces, as well as whether there are changes in the structural dynamic response as a result of impact or fatigue damage. Such a system could never replace the importance of experienced ice navigators, but could provide valuable additional information for the Captain and his officers to operate both safely and efficiently in difficult ice conditions.
It is a privilege to be part of this expedition. To experience this remote and mysterious part of the world with its magical sea ice, polar bears, whales, seals and phenomenal bird life. To cultivate and cross pollinate an ever inquisitive mindset inspired by other radical thinkers. Through this unique experience, it is not possible to view the world in the same way again.