Norwegian Arctic Ocean Geoscientific Program

An initiative to develop a research program to explore the Arctic Ocean

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According to the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an additional 235.000 km2 was added to Norwegian waters in 2009. The area is comparable to the size of Great Britain. The northern part of this territory is poorly explored, as exploring the Arctic Ocean has not been given priority in Norway in recent years. An improved knowledge base is needed to ensure the future management of the region.

The development of a Norwegian Arctic Ocean Geoscientific Program is an initiative by seven research institutions; the Geological Survey of Norway, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, SINTEF, the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo, the University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway, and the University Centre in Svalbard. The purpose is to develop a multi-disciplinary scientific program to explore the seabed and the geological structures below, from Svalbard to the tectonic ridge known as the Gakkel ridge. NORSAR and the Norwegian Polar Institute have joined the initiative.

The main profile of the program will be basic research, as the overall goal is to gain new knowledge about the territory, and to bring the participants up front when it comes to knowledge about, for and in the Arctic Ocean. Education will be an important part, as we want to introduce a new generation of polar researchers to the Arctic Ocean.

Geology and geophysics have been given priority at this stage, as we are targeting research topics like the processes behind the opening of the Arctic Ocean, the dynamics of the tectonic ridge and climate history through the past 50 MY. We will also be developing and testing new technologies, suitable for application in the Arctic Ocean.

As a first step, the partners have launched an 18-month pre-project, covering the development of a high quality scientific program, building an international partnership, identifying cost-effective logistics platforms and developing a funding strategy.

The Norwegian Foreign Office supports the initiative through the Arctic 2030 program.

The costs of an Arctic Ocean exploration program are huge. A multi-disciplinary approach will enable more partners to join and make the program more robust. International cooperation is needed, because the topics to be studied are international and because Norway does not have icebreakers capable of operating in the fast ice.

The partners are in the process of designing scientific work packages, covering different parts of the geological structures. A first version of the program is scheduled to be available in August/September 2016.

The following have the overall responsibility for the program and can be contacted:

Project leader: Gunnar Sand, Vice President at SINTEF;
Scientific leader: Rolf Mjelde, Professor of Geology at the University of Bergen;
Steering group leader: Morten Smelror, Director of the Norwegian Geological Survey;