The Research Council of Norway made its first site visit to CIRFA and the University of Tromsø on Thursday 23 March. The site visit is a contractual follow-up meeting with the research centre, and the objective of the meeting was to go through the scientific development in the previous year and review the plans for the coming period.

From left: Torbjørn Eltoft, Morten Hald, Stian Anfinsen, Marit Olli Helgesen, Richard Hall, Camilla Brekke, Liv Jorunn Jenssen, Kai Mjøsund, Johannes Lohse. Photo: Ellen Ingeborg Hætta.

The Research Council was represented by Kai Mjøsund, Research Council Department Director at the Department for Research-driven Innovation, Liv Jorunn Jenssen, Coordinator for Centres for Research-based Innovation, and Andreas Quamme Nielsen, Senior Adviser and the Research Council’s observer in the CIRFA Board.

At the meeting, the Research Council met with representatives from the CIRFA management, the host institution, user partners , work package leaders and young scientists, who reported about achieved results, ongoing and planned activities.

The Centre Leader Torbjørn Eltoft focused about the research and technology development being done in CIRFA. Eltoft gave examples of the many challenges the maritime industry faces new challenges in the High North. The Arctic is characterized by low temperatures, remoteness, low visibility, darkness (for several months of the year), and a vulnerable environment. Sea ice, floating isolated ice objects, and quick changes in weather and wave conditions represent significant challenges to the industry, which require advanced monitoring solutions. In the presentation he gave a brief overview of how new remote sensing technologies may support Arctic operations. Integrated remote sensing and forecasting refer to the process of combining remote sensing data from multiple platforms, multiple sensors, and surface based measurements, and integrating the derived information into numerical models to provide improved predictions.

The host institution, represented by the Dean of Faculty of Science and Technology and Chair of CIRFA Board Morten Hald, and Stian Anfinsen, Head of Department of Physics and Technology, pointed out that CIRFA is a research centre well anchored in UiTs strategy, with activities fitting in several of the prioritized areas, and that the centre is an important contribution to the research and education at the host institution UiT.

Better information for intelligent decisions

Richard Hall from Statoil, and Jan Petter Pedersen from KSAT, CIRFA Board members and industry representatives, also shared their perspectives at the meeting. Hall pointed out that data access is not a problem today. Getting better information from this data overload generated from multiple platforms is however a challenge. This is where CIRFA comes in with algorithm development  and better information, to be operationalised by the user partners to make intelligent decisions and get safe and efficient operations in the Arctic. Hall also gave examples of other areas where CIRFA research is applicable, and mentioned renewable energy, fish farms and risk awareness.

Sea ice classification

At the meeting, Camilla Brekke, Work Package Leader, and Johannes Lohse, PhD Fellow, were invited to present ongoing work as examples of research carried out under CIRFA.

Lohse talked about sea ice classification from SAR. The sea ice is usually classified from fast ice, to close and open drift ice, and finally open waters, where no ice is present. It is from an operational perspective important to know if and where there is ice present, and what type of ice there is, in order to navigate safely in the High North. The current sea ice charts often do not give sufficient information for operators in the area as the resolution of the ice charts is currently low. The reason for this is that it is challenging to classify ice from a radar image. The properties of the ice, such as roughness on the surface, structure within the ice (layers, brine inclusions, air bubbles), salinity, temperature, snow cover and ice condition (brash, ridges), as well as radar parameters influence the appearance of sea ice in the radar image, making the interpretation difficult. Lohse’s PhD project focuses on improving algorithms to segment or classify sea ice on radar images.

Oil spill modelling

Brekke focused on results from the NOrwegian Radar oil Spill Experiment (NORSE2015) that was carried out during the NOFO 2015 exercise. In this experiment the research team studied the evolution and transport of oil slicks, and oil slick detection and characterization capabilitites. Different emulsions of mineral oil, along with a look-alike slick of plant oil, were released in the North Sea. The slicks were tracked using an airborne L-band SAR over a period of eight hours following release, giving a unique and high-resolution time series  for tracking the development of oil slicks. The results show that the plant oil and mineral oil have different characteristics, where the plant oil rapidly entrains, most oil stays below the surface and the transport of the plant oil is less wind-driven . The mineral oil slowly entrains, and most oil stays at surface level, which makes it more wind-driven. Brekke also talked about the ongoing experiment in Hamburg where they test if oil spill can be detected in sea ice-infested waters.

The guests were also invited on a tour of the UAV laboratory and the ICT visualisation laboratory at Northern Research Institute (Norut), by Kjell Arild Høgda. Norut is an important research partner within CIRFA, and is localized immediately above the offices of CIRFA.