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Japan joins Arctic race with 1st research icebreaker for region

  • December 18, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 7:07 a.m.
  • English Press

YOSHIO NAGATA, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — Japan has begun work on its first ship able to conduct Arctic research year-round, even when the sea is frozen, as climate change draws the world’s attention to the region.


The 13,000-ton, 128-meter icebreaker is being built by Japan Marine United based on a design from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.


The 33.5 billion yen ($295 million) ship, slated to set sail in the year beginning April 2026, will be able to accommodate a crew of 99 for 40 to 50 days.


The icebreaker will let Japan better contribute to research in a region that has become important as a bellwether for global warming. Arctic nations are rushing to expand their surveys of the frozen north as the ice retreats, increasing the potential for navigation.


Japan’s new ship will carry a full range of equipment for studying the Arctic seafloor and biological resources, as well as for taking oceanic and atmospheric measurements.


A fjord in southern Greenland is seeing less ice due to a warming world. (Photo courtesy of NASA/John Sonntag)

“It’s the world-class research ship we’ve been waiting for,” said Eisuke Akane, acting head of the science agency’s Arctic research vessel project office. “We’ll be able to participate in international observation projects with pride.”


Scientific study of the Arctic picked up after the Cold War as climate change took on greater importance in the 1990s.


The science agency’s current Arctic research vessel, the Mirai, is a nuclear-powered ship that was converted to diesel. It has been observing the region since 1998, but is limited to operating during the summer in ice-free areas. Researchers seeking to conduct studies at other times of the year must request assistance from Canada or Germany, which have research icebreakers.


The new ship would allow Japan to conduct its own missions in the winter and accommodate scientists from other countries.


Japan Marine United looks to tap its experience building an icebreaker for Antarctic research.


Plans for new Arctic vessels also are being discussed in Canada and Germany as their ships age. China and South Korea have research vessels as well, with an eye on new shipping lanes that may open in the Arctic Ocean. Japan’s new ship will be key to advancing Tokyo’s interests in the region.

Ice cleared near Greenland. Arctic research has become a priority amid climate change.   © Reuters
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