The Arctic and Antarctic areas represent a number of challenges for maritime operators. This include remoteness, climatic conditions, sea ice and a multitude of other factors.
As ice melts and offshore and fishing activities move further into these hostile regions, the need to understand these challenges and take effective counter-actions becomes more and more relevant.
This section will discuss some of the challenges that are related to ICT systems and use. Much of this is related to radio-communication and is explained in more detail on the Communication page.
Shore infrastructure such as VHF communication, AIS systems and other facilities are generally not available in Arctic waters, even close to shore. This means that one in many cases must relay on global systems supported by satellite.
One exception is HF and MF radio which in principle should be available in these areas. However, these are very limited in the bandwidth they provide and should in general be reserved for high criticality communication.
Low temperatures, sleet and snow create problems for on-board equipment above deck. Ice on the antennas can reduce signal strength, particularly for very high frequency communication. If there is salt in the ice, this will also impact lower frequencies. Excessive ice creation may also destroy equipment.
Electronic equipment that are exposed to low temperatures must also be verified to handle this. Normally, above deck navigation and radio-communication equipment is designed to operate down to -20°C (IEC, 2002). The arctic code (IMO, 2002) specifies that critical equipment should be designed to operate under the conditions one can expect to encounter.
Also, rain, sleet and to some degree snow also increase damping of radio signals and can create problems for long distance communication. Particularly for satellite systems one can probably expect impact on high frequency systems such as Ku and Ka band communication.
Solar winds can create magnificent aurora displays (picture of aurora seen from space, by NASA), but do at the same time create severe disturbances in the ionosphere. This will impact many types of satellite systems and L-band systems in particular. Aurora is mainly created in the polar areas as that is where the magnetic poles are located.
It is well known that severe disturbances to satellite positioning system accuracy and availability may occur under these circumstances and one can expect that it also can impact satellite communication, particularly in L-band (e.g., Inmarsat emergency communication and Iridium).
As is discussed on the Communication page, geostationary satellites cannot cover very high altitudes. The maximum latitude is dependent on signal damping in the atmosphere as well as longitudinal position of the satellite.
In practical terms, it is only Iridium that can be used at very high latitudes. Some special systems are also available, e.g., ARGOS (mostly scientific data acquisition) and COSPAS / SARSAT (emergency beacons).
The remoteness to shore infrastructure makes safety a priority concern. There is limited possibility for help in emergencies and distances make response times significantly longer.
As noted above, HF and MF may be used in safety communication, but cannot always be relied on. Both systems are also susceptible to ionospheric disturbances. At very high latitudes and outside the limited shore infrastructure that exists, these systems together with COSPAS / SARSAT are the only GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety Systems) components that can be used to reach rescue centers at land.
These regions are also not very well covered by maps, either in electronic or paper form. The maps that do exist is of very variable quality.
The weather in these regions are also very unpredictable and rapidly changing. The lack of measurement stations make weather forecasting a difficult task.
IEC, (2002). IEC 60945:2002, Maritime navigation and radiocommunication equipment and systems - General requirements - Methods of testing and required test results. Fourth edition.
IMO, (2002). Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-Covered Waters, IMO MSC/Circular.1056 - adopted on 23 December 2002.
Last updated 2012-08-29 by Ø.J.Rødseth @ MARINTEK