Weather routing tools are common on ocean-going merchant ships, but are not usually designed with ice in mind. British Antarctic Survey researchers are working to fill this gap for their organization’s specialized needs, which center on safe and efficient navigation in remote areas of the Southern Ocean.
The BAS AI Lab is developing an AI-enabled route planning tool to recommend the fastest and most fuel-efficient routes in polar waters, taking into account ice, surface conditions and weather. This season it will be tested on the research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough (although the master and officers of the watch will still make the final decisions on navigation).
“I’m especially excited to see how it works around ice. There are many systems that can provide weather routes in the open ocean, but this tool is unique in adding the ability to account for ice, allowing us to reduce fuel consumption and environmental impact during the field season,” said Capt. Will Wheatley, master of the RRS Sir David Attenborough.
The new tool uses existing forecasts and datasets and is constantly updated. Its purpose is broader than everyday navigation: researchers see it as a means to effectively plan seasonal routes even months in advance. The team plans to refine the model using real-world fuel consumption data from the ship, and eventually science missions and logistics tasks may also be integrated into the tool.
The route planner is part of BAS’s goal of achieving zero emissions by 2040. “The main driver here is to create something that reduces the ship’s carbon emissions and makes our science more efficient. We are really excited about this open source project, which we believe will be of value to all ships operating in the polar oceans,” said Professor Maria Fox from the BAS AI Laboratory.
RRS Sir David Attenborough is a Polar Class 4 research vessel designed to support BAS research and supply missions below the 60th parallel. She was delivered in late 2020 after a highly publicized naming contest and made her maiden voyage to the research station at Rother in late 2021.