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Japan to launch Unmanned vessel to explore Arctic Ocean

Publication Date : 12-07-2014

 

The Japanese government will launch a project to develop an autonomous underwater vehicle capable of collecting oceanographic data on ice distribution in the Arctic Ocean.

The data will be used to ensure the safe passage of vessels carrying liquefied natural gas and other energy resources from Russia to Japan through the ice-covered Arctic Ocean.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will seek funding for the project in its budgetary requests for fiscal 2015, starting next April, with the aim of realising the project in the latter half of this decade.

The Arctic Ocean route has the potential to be used for the transport of oil from Siberia in Russia, and for the export and import of automobile parts via Rotterdam, where leading European ports are located.

If the Arctic Ocean route becomes available as a navigation route from Europe to Japan, the transportation period could be shortened by about 10 days compared with the route via the Suez Canal. This would also reduce fuel costs.

Major shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines announced earlier this month that it would start transporting Russian-produced LNG to Japan via the Arctic Ocean in 2018 as the world’s first large-scale shipping project of its kind.

But given the fact that the Arctic Ocean is covered in ice, obtaining detailed oceanographic data on the distribution of ice—which can move and increase or decrease depending on the wind, tide and seawater temperatures—would be imperative to ensure safe and efficient navigation.

The ministry plans to develop an autonomous underwater vehicle to succeed the deep-sea cruising vessel Urashima, an autonomous exploration robot about 10 meters long and used by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

The new model is expected to be able to operate for dozens of days, 10 times longer than the Urashima.

With this new model, the ministry aims to conduct observations around the Arctic Ocean navigation route over a long time. It plans to equip Urashima’s successor with the capability to photograph ice conditions from the sea and survey them with the use of an acoustic system. The data collected will be automatically transmitted.

The Arctic Ocean is said to be susceptible to changes in the global environment, so the government aims to equip the planned underwater vehicle with the ability to sample seawater to measure changes in acid levels and salt density.

The government plans to make public the observation data collected, thereby contributing to research the world over.

In May 2013, Japan acquired observer status for the Arctic Council established by the United States, Canada, Russia and Scandinavian countries based on the Ottawa Declaration of 1996. But the nation has fallen behind in the international race for development and utilisation of the Arctic Ocean.

 

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