An ambitious vertical “floating laboratory” built with support from the French government will use sensors to collect data from the waters of the Southern Ocean.
Polar Pod, the creation of French explorer and environmentalist Jean-Louis Etienne, will be transported horizontally from South Africa to the Antarctic waters, but folded into a vertical position to begin operations.
Ballast tanks – on-board compartments that fill with water – ensure that the spindly structure remains stable even in adverse weather and jumps out of the sea or falls sideways.
The manned ship was constructed without a motor – it is instead carried by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current – a 13,000-mile loop of sea water that flows around Antarctica.
The ambitious construction will be 100 meters long – taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York (which is 151 feet from base to torch).
Polar Pod will tour the Antarctic twice in three years and use sensors to collect data on ocean carbon uptake and acidity, as well as wave dynamics.
Construction of the Polar Pod, which is funded by the French government, has not yet started, but Etienne hopes it will set sail in late 2023 or 2024.
In 1986, 74-year-old Etienne was the first person to reach the North Pole alone.
Artistic concept of the floating ship. The compartment shown, which protrudes from the water, offers space for eight people at the same time
The ambitious construction will be 100 meters long – taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York (both shown but not to scale)
WHAT IS THE ANTARCTIC CIRCUIT?
The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is a 13,000 mile loop of sea water that flows around Antarctica.
It is propelled by the confluence of smaller currents from the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, all of which meet around Antarctica.
It is the most important current in the Southern Ocean and moves more water than any other current on earth.
It is the only ocean current that flows around the globe.
It is responsible for absorbing and draining warmer water from Antarctica so that it stays frozen.
“Like a satellite around Antarctica, Polar Pod will enable the collection of data and long-term observations that will be transmitted to researchers, oceanographers and climatologists.” [and] Biologists, “says Etienne on his website.
“This 100-meter-high and 1,000-tonne platform is designed for the largest waves in the world.”
Despite its top-heavy appearance, Polar Pod is actually “much more stable and comfortable than a traditional ship,” he claims.
Etienne did not want to reveal how much the project was likely to cost, but announced that 43 scientific institutions from 12 countries are involved.
An eight-person crew will be on board the Polar Pod at all times – two sailors to navigate icebergs, three researchers, and a cook – but the personnel will change constantly, much like the crew on board the International Space Station (ISS).
The personnel are accommodated in a multi-storey compartment directly at the head of the ship, which is about 15 meters above the surface of the water.
The ballast tanks under the living area are submerged to keep the entire structure stable, Etienne told CNN. The very bottom one will weigh 1,000 tons.
Polar Pod will also use underwater microphones called hydrophones to record different sound waves emitted by different marine life to allow a count of how common they are in the area.
Electricity is generated by wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, which makes it energy efficient and “has very little environmental impact”.
The primary focus of the mission will be the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, which makes the water more acidic and can kill marine life.
The manned ship was designed without a motor – instead it is powered by the Antarctic circumpolar current
Polar Pod will make two laps around Antarctica every three years carried by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current is propelled by the confluence of smaller currents from the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, all of which meet around Antarctica
The floating laboratory will be transported horizontally from South Africa to the waters of the Antarctic, but will be folded into a vertical position prior to commissioning
Ballast tanks – on-board compartments that fill with water – ensure that the spindly structure remains stable and does not emerge from the sea or fall sideways
The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 that humans produce when we burn fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas.
The ocean is a carbon sink – that is, it takes in more carbon from the atmosphere than it gives off.
“This very large area of cold water around Antarctica is the planet’s largest carbon sink,” Etienne told CNN.
“The stability of the Polar Pod will allow scientists to get this information.”
Even in adverse weather, the Polar Pod is supported by its ballast tanks. However, four sailors on board are tasked with navigating and setting the sails in order to avoid icebergs
Conceptual image showing Polar Pod during its flip maneuver. Polar Pod is actually inspired by an existing US Navy ship, the Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP).
FLIP, the FLoating Instrument Platform, is a 355 foot long research platform that can be used for oceanographic research
Polar Pod is actually inspired by an existing US Navy ship, the Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP), which was launched back in 1962.
The ship conducts research in a number of areas including acoustics, oceanography, meteorology, and marine mammal observation.
FLIP has the ability to drift across the ocean like a ship but transform into a vertical buoy in the pursuit of scientific research, making it one of the most unique ships on the water.
The world’s oceans absorb 900 million tons of CO2 a year MORE than previously thought – the amount emitted by 2.2 billion gasoline cars
According to a 2020 study by the University of Exeter, the world’s oceans can absorb carbon dioxide better than most scientific models previously determined.
Although carbon dioxide emissions are easily quantifiable, it is difficult to calculate how much is released into the atmosphere and how much is taken up by water bodies.
Previous estimates of the movement of carbon (known as “flux”) between the atmosphere and the oceans did not take into account temperature differences at the surface and a few meters below it.
The research calculated CO2 flows from 1992 to 2018 and found up to twice as much net flow at certain times and locations compared to uncorrected models.
The oceans could actually absorb an additional 0.9 petagrams of CO2, equivalent to 900 million tons, the study found.
A gasoline car averaging 9,000 miles per year, 40 miles per gallon, and 0.4 kg of CO2 per mile produces 408 kg of CO2 per year.
This means that 900 million tons of CO2 correspond to the CO2 emissions of around 2.2 billion cars.
According to the researchers, this corresponds to ten percent of global fossil fuel emissions.
“Half of the carbon dioxide we emit does not stay in the atmosphere but is absorbed by the oceans and land vegetation ‘sinks’,” said Professor Andrew Watson of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter.