Stories of the Finnish Arctic Expertise

A different kind of summer

For the centenary of Finnish independence in 2017, a group of researchers will board an expedition of a lifetime. Multipurpose icebreaker Nordica will set sail from Vancouver for Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, through the legendary Northwest Passage.

Arctia, a Finnish company providing icebreaking and specialised multipurpose vessel services in polar areas, has planned this exotic transit in Arctic waters. They have invited the researchers to see the Far North with their own eyes..

"Many researchers who study the Arctic may have never visited the polar regions. This is a unique opportunity, and I am happy that we were able to organize this  expedition, says Eero Hokkanen, Communications Manager at Arctia.

Arctia Ltd. wants to develop cooperation with the scientific community. Many institutes around the world with research interests in the Arctic do not have the logistical means to access the area. Arctia can offer its fleet and expertise to help.  Facilitating knowledge and data exchange between industry and academia is also one of the overarching themes of the Arctic Economic Council AEC chaired by Arctia’s President and CEO Tero Vauraste in 2017–2019.

“The Arctic 100 Expedition demonstrates the idea of using icebreakers, and not only the limited number of national polar research vessels, for research purposes in polar areas. In addition to taking researchers on board during transit voyages, icebreaker operators could in the future charter vessels to joint ventures of multiple research institutes in a flexible way. Arctia Ltd. wants to be in the forefront of this new way of thinking: pooling and sharing of Arctic assets”, Eero Hokkanen remarks.

“We want to give the researchers the possibility to concretely observe their field of interest; to see, what it is like to be on an icebreaker far up north, where there is ice throughout the year. They also get the chance to spend time with each other and discuss their research.”

Nordica can accommodate research equipment and containers. Mobile labs for oceanographers or marine biologists can be set up in cabins. On this expedition, the passengers are experts in the fields of law, humanities and social sciences, so they will not need lab space.

However, the Finnish Meteorological Institutes’ new ice and weather service concepts will be tested for user experience during the expedition. The FMI will send MSV Nordica ice, sea and weather forecasts covering a large area between the Bering Strait and Nuuk. A meteorologist and a sea expert in duty issue the forecast three times a week during the transit.

The weather will be cold, with  freezing sea sprays. For their summer trip, the researchers will bring their winter clothes – warm parkas, thick mittens, woolly hat and sturdy boots. Luckily, there is also a sauna on the icebreaker.

Science communicator Ari Laakso of the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland says that the experience will more than make up for any lost days in the summer sun.

“A few years back we were building an Arctic science centre exhibition on board Russian icebreaker Lenin in Murmansk. During that time, we talked about boarding a Russian icebreaker on the Northern Sea route. It never happened, but now I get to travel on a Finnish icebreaker, on a route that very few people have ever sailed. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

An inland person, Ari Laakso is packing pills against motion sickness.

“We will travel for a bit on the open Pacific Ocean, and seasickness is not something I am keen to experience.”

kapeampi kartta.jpg

The Arctic 100 Expedition route is some 2400 nautical miles. The map is indicative only.

During the expedition, Ari Laakso will collect interviews as material for the Arktikum Science Centre exhibition. Professional photographer Antti Kurola will capture the trip both on video and in documentary photos.

The science communicator says that sailing in the Arctic waters for several weeks in July will give a very good general picture of the current circumstances in the Arctic region.

“I will observe the situation in the light of statistical information and talk with the crew about their impressions. We do not know what the Nortwest Passage will look like in ten years’ time.”

Ari Laakso is looking forward to the expedition both for professional and for personal reasons.

“There are so many aspects to this trip that I am looking forward to. It will be interesting to see the majestic sceneries of the Arctic and to talk with the polar researchers, but I am also excited to get to be part of the small community of passengers and crew. This is going to be one of the high points of my career as an Arctic science communicator. It is an honour to be invited.”

Chief Officer Teemu Alstela works on Sisu, a vessel providing icebreaking services in the Baltic Sea. With his experience of long periods on sea, he cautions the passengers that internet connections may be spotty near the North Pole. Impressive as the views on the Arctic waters may be, you can only watch the icebergs for so long.

“That is what you need books and films for.  On deck seven, Nordica has a great selection of video games and DVDs from the last millennium”, he chuckles.

Teemu Alstela notes that eating is also a great way to pass time. The Northwest Passage may add not only to experiences but also to the waistline. The professional chefs of the Nordica canteen serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks all day and night. The crew works unusual hours – six hours of duty and six hours of rest round the clock – so they have their meals at not so ordinary times.

The researchers may indulge in the delicacies, however, as there is also a gym on board. After work and exercise, sleep comes easy in the comfortable cabins – unless the midnight sun bothers you.

The northern route from the Pacific to the Atlantic has always fascinated travellers. The first explorer to cross the complete passage was Roald Amundsen in 1903-1906. Global warming is now opening routes that marines have wanted to navigate for centuries. The first cargo ship sailed through the Northwest Passage in 2013.

Nordica will leave the Canadian Pacific port of Vancouver on July 5. It is scheduled to arrive in Nuuk on the eastern shore of the Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean by August 1.  The Arctic 100 Expedition on this fabled route brings together Finnish expertise in shipbuilding and icebreaking, as well as the Arctic expertise of Finnish researchers.

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