Office of Naval Research press release
A recent activity was executed with participants from Denmark, Canada and the United States using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deploy GPS tags onto icebergs near Disko Bay, Greenland. This effort will improve understanding of ocean circulation and meteorological impacts on icebergs—key variables to ensuring maritime situational awareness.
This unprecedented international effort was performed under the International Cooperative Engagement Program for Polar Research (ICE-PPR), a 25-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote coordination and collaboration between Polar Nations.
The Danish Navy Vessel Ejnar Mikkelsen (P-571) was tasked by the Danish Joint Arctic Command for 10 days of scientific support in waters of West Greenland. The science team was led by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global and its International Engagement Office, while also receiving active support by the Universities of Washington, Colorado, Maryland and Kansas.
The team developed specialized tags and modified off-the-shelf components to report and collect GPS positions of tagged icebergs via satellite communication constellations. The delivery vehicles were remotely operated by hexa- and octo-copters capable of carrying and deploying payloads up to 10 pounds. The shipboard team consisted of five U.S. nationals and one Danish expert from the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI).
“This was an extremely successful operation executed with great cooperation between the ship’s crew and science team. The Ejnar Mikkelsen proved to be an outstanding platform for this type of UAV work, and her crew operated as true professionals in iceberg-infested waters,” said John Woods, project lead, ONR Global.
The Ejnar Mikkelsen has a crew of 20 and is an extremely capable Arctic Patrol Vessel accustomed to providing an excellent platform for scientists. Each summer, the Danish Navy supports research teams interested in geology, biology, geophysics, oceanography and meteorology. Another team of two from the University of Copenhagen were onboard to collect iceberg samples to determine the sediment composition and origins of the local area.
“The Danish Navy vessels operate in Greenland each year to support a wide variety of research institutions. Some of the research has a direct link to shipborne activity, and is therefore a great way for the Navy to both participate in and benefit from scientific research. The movement and behavior of ice in Greenlandic waters has always been a challenge, and everything we can learn about it, is worth every effort,” said Søren Dreijer, Leutenant Commander and executive officer of the Danish Navy Vessel Ejnar Mikkelsen.
The reach-back support team includes the U.S. Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, Canadian Ice Service (CIS) and Danish Defense GeoMetoc Center.
Data provided by the shipboard team will deliver valuable insights for improving the accuracy of iceberg drift and decay models. The data set will increase the maritime situational awareness for all ships operating in any of the world’s oceans that contain icebergs, both North and South. Real time data is available at https://iabp.apl.uw.edu/ICE-PPR_DiskoBay_2021.html.