Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 27 Issue 02

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Volume 27, No. 2
Pages 170 - 179


Hovercraft as a Mobile Science Platform Over Sea Ice in the Arctic Ocean

By Yngve Kristoffersen  and John K. Hall  
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Article Abstract

Physical sampling of sea ice, the water mass, and subbottom geology in the Arctic Ocean is carried out from icebreakers or temporary ice camps deployed and supported by aircraft. Here, we consider an air-cushion vehicle as an alternative polar research platform to achieve self-contained operation and mobility at low operating cost. We report on five seasons of operating a hovercraft equipped as a polar research vessel with the capability to acquire geological samples and take geophysical and oceanographic measurements along with underway measurements of ice thickness. Long-distance mobility over first-year ice in the Transpolar Drift was put to the test in 2012. Considering only the time spent driving, we maintained a speed of 5–7 knots and had to travel a distance that was 1.3 times the great circle route, with an effective hover height of 0.5 m. Ice surface contrast is critical to efficient hovercraft operations in the polar pack ice. A research hovercraft can operate autonomously, serve as a temporary ice drift station, or operate jointly with an icebreaker. The fuel budget for a full year of daily hovercraft operation is consumed in a single day by a diesel-driven icebreaker.


Kristoffersen, Y., and J.K. Hall. 2014. Hovercraft as a mobile science platform over sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Oceanography 27(2):170–179, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.33.


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