Rear Adm. Mat Winter, chief of naval research, paints a portrait of naval operations in a challenging Arctic environment at the Sixth Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations held at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, D.C. Credit: US Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released.
For naval assets to operate safely in an increasingly accessible Arctic, they will need a better understanding of the changing environment and more accurate weather and sea ice predictions than are currently available. It also won't hurt to have some new technologies to help ships operate more safely and effectively in frigid, ice-choked waters.
These are some of the challenges the Navy is addressing through science and technology (S&T) research. Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mat Winter discussed some of this work during his remarks as the Navy keynote speaker at the Sixth Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Maritime and Naval Operations, held last week at the Naval Heritage Center.
"The Office of Naval Research [ONR] has extensive research on computer modeling and prediction of sea waves, ice movement, seasonal ice cycles and air-ocean interaction." Winter said.
He highlighted a few current initiatives: an integrated program of observations and computer simulations to study the marginal ice zone (MIZ), the transition area between sea ice and the open ocean; an initiative to provide better physics for computer modeling of waves in the MIZ; experiments to understand the effects of changing Arctic conditions on low-frequency sound in the water and sonar operations; and research into vertical heat distribution and movement in the Arctic Ocean.
Winter also addressed ONR's research in issues like ship stability risk from ice accretion; improved hull design for ice operations; ice-phobic coatings to prevent ice from adhering to exposed material; and propellers and propulsors that are less vulnerable to ice damage.
Reflecting higher level strategic guidance, including the Navy's Arctic Roadmap, Winter emphasized the importance of partnerships in Arctic preparations. He noted that his researchers are uniquely postured to build partnerships, a practice he called "S&T diplomacy."
"Our ONR Global outreach mission allows our scientists to collaborate with other scientists around the world to discover the breakthrough technologies and build the scientific relationships vital to addressing the unique challenges in the harsh Arctic environment," Winter said.
Later in the day, ONR's Dr. Scott Harper, lead for the Navy's Arctic and Global Prediction initiatives, went into more detail about environmental research in his presentation. Harper noted that there are three main focus areas.
First is to develop an improved understanding of the changing Arctic environment, which will enable more accurate representation in environmental computer models and improved forecasting capabilities.
Harper explained that the loss of summer sea ice cover was allowing more interaction between the atmosphere, waves and ocean surface, creating much more dynamic conditions. "Understanding how these things work together is the first step towards making reliable predictive models for better forecasting," he said.
The second focus is the development of technologies for sustained observations and measurements that will provide long-term monitoring, further scientific understanding and improve models. This focus includes the use of unmanned and autonomous vehicles and the collection of remote sensing data. "We need to build the operational data set," Harper noted, "not only for the science that we need to do, but also to provide real-time awareness to operational forces."
Improved understanding and enhanced data collection support the third focus: the development of computer models that include the influence of ocean, atmosphere, ice and waves.
"The goal is to build system models that operate in high resolution, capture important Arctic processes and assimilate all this data," Harper said, "and then run these models out to the future to predict not only what will happen in the next few days, but to also provide seasonal guidance as well as looking out multi-year to decades to figure out how fast the ice will continue to diminish."
The Symposium was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and the National Naval Ice Center, with funding support from ONR.