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Meld. St. 32 (2014–2015)

Norwegian Interests and Policy in the Antarctic

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9 Logistics, infrastructure, search and rescue

9.1 Troll and Troll Airfield: Norwegian activity hub in Dronning Maud Land

The Troll station with its Troll Airfield serves as a hub of field activity in Dronning Maud Land and for the field station on Bouvetøya as well. Several permanent monitoring stations have been set up at the Troll station, including the Troll air-monitoring station (Norwegian Institute for Air Research), the Troll meteorological station (Norwegian Meteorological Institute, met.no) and the TrollSat satellite data receiving station (KSAT). Both Norwegian and foreign research projects and a wide variety of monitoring programmes have been conducted at or from Troll.

Figure 9.1 HM King Harald of Norway at Troll Airfield, February 2015.

Figure 9.1 HM King Harald of Norway at Troll Airfield, February 2015.

Photo: Stein J. Bjørge (Aftenposten)

Troll Airfield is intended for use by scientific researchers; it was built to make transport to Dronning Maud Land (especially its western region) better and safer. The airstrip is not set up to accommodate commercial operators.

The Antarctic, including Dronning Maud Land, is not subject to Norway’s Aviation Act. Nor have the statute’s provisions been made applicable in the area on any other basis. The landing strip at Troll is therefore not subject to concession or design rules. Pilots themselves are responsible for determining whether it is prudent to use the airfield at any given time. An aircraft operator follows regulations established by the authorities that issued his or her Air Operator Certificate (AOC). For Norwegian operators, that means complying with the rules of the Ministry of Transport and Communications or the Civil Aviation Authority.

Textbox 9.1 Troll and Troll Airfield

Norway’s Troll research station became a permanent year-round station in 2005. It lies about 235 km from the coast, in Jutulsessen in Dronning Maud Land – 1,270 m above sea level.

The current station normally houses six people during the Antarctic winter, while a substantially larger group occupies the station in the summertime. In addition to the main station, several separate buildings have been erected to house laboratories, provisions, generators, an emergency station and barracks with bedrooms and garage.

In 2005 the 3,000-m Troll Airfield was established. People and equipment can now be carried to and from the research station quicker, cheaper and with less risk than before. Troll Airfield is normally in service from October to March, but has also been used in the winter for medical evacuations. Extensive investments have been made in approach lights and in fire-fighting and snow-removal equipment. The result is improved safety, especially in emergency situations outside the summer season.

Troll Airfield is part of an air transport network that includes Cape Town, South Africa, and the Russian Novolazarevskaya station in Dronning Maud Land to the east of Troll and nearer the coast. The airfield at Troll is in active use by the Norwegian programme as well as by other national programmes in Dronning Maud Land.

The Norwegian Polar Institute is responsible for operations at Troll, and manages them in accordance with conditions approved by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. The overall impact of activity at Troll is assessed in relation to Norway’s regulations on environmental protection and safety in Antarctica; see chapter 5.3 of this white paper. In addition to the framework conditions that underlie the permit from the Ministry of Climate and Environment, a number of documents govern Troll’s development. These include a land-use plan, which is an areal guideline for infrastructure development meant to accommodate current and possible future research activities. If activities come into conflict, scientific research is to be assigned highest priority.

The Norwegian Polar Institute is responsible for evaluating and approving the establishment of all infrastructural elements related to basic existing infrastructure (including transport infrastructure) at and around Troll. Key factors to be heeded include the land-use plan, logistical needs and strategic guidelines for research, environmental factors and basic infrastructural capacity.

9.2 Troll: A green station

Troll is a green station with ambitious environmental goals for energy use, waste handling, transport and other aspects of its operation. Its goal is to be on par with the leading stations of Antarctica in developing and implementing environmentally friendly solutions. Taking the environment into account is integral to the station’s activities, particularly when establishing new infrastructure.

Continuous efforts are made to raise the environmental standard still further, using lessons learned from Troll’s own operations and from other national operators in the Antarctic. New and alternative solutions are implemented as technological developments permit. Energy production and conservation are key focus points in making Troll operations greener. Fuel is the largest pollution source associated with Norwegian national activity in the Antarctic, and it represents a major logistical and economic challenge as well. Since Troll opened as a year-round station in 2005, alternative energy use has burgeoned in Antarctica as new stations have come into operation. Wind power in particular has been embraced, as has solar in some cases. The windmills at the United States’s McMurdo Station, at New Zealand’s Scott Station in the Ross Sea and at Germany’s Neumayer III station, which opened in 2009, are all examples of this trend.

In recent years a great deal of work has been done identifying ways to use alternative energy and taking steps to reduce Troll’s energy needs. This effort will continue, with several measures to be assessed in more detail – including whether wind energy production and solar energy use are feasible. Energy storage technology that would permit wind and solar energy to be exploited more efficiently holds great promise. Its development would also benefit Norwegian R&D communities and industrial players by strengthening Norway’s position as an innovator in polar energy solutions.

A large part of Troll’s fuel needs stems from the transport of fuel for refilling the airplanes that fly between Cape Town and Dronning Maud Land. Arrangements using an aircraft type that does not need refuelling at Troll could save substantial energy. Increased ground transport cooperation with other countries and new transport vehicle technologies could result in energy savings as well.

9.3 Logistical solutions: Environment, safety and economy

The Norwegian Polar Institute is mandated both to organise its own field research and to provide shared services for other Norwegian researchers in the Antarctic using its logistical resources. That is why more or less all Norwegian research activities in the Antarctic are led and coordinated by the Institute.

Serious accidents and environmental incidents are among the largest risks associated with activity in the Antarctic. Norway has very high safety standards, and its activities in the region will continue to reflect high health, environment and safety standards.

With regard to air evacuations and search and rescue (SAR) operations, various national programmes have entered into joint agreements, some of them are bilateral and some multilateral. Some such agreements apply only to a single activity or season. In practice, the national programme that organises an activity or programme is responsible for any SAR needs arising due to accident or misfortune.

9.4 Air and ship transport – room for development

Eleven countries that do research in Dronning Maud Land have set up the Dronning Maud Land Air Network (DROMLAN). Along with Cape Town, South Africa, Troll Airfield is an important hub in this air transport partnership. Since 2005 DROMLAN has employed a variety of different aircraft types; replacing these older craft with a more modern and environmentally friendly alternative is a major goal.

Textbox 9.2 DROMLAN and DROMSHIP

Most of the flights serving the research stations in Dronning Maud Land are organised through the Dronning Maud Land Air Network (DROMLAN).

In the Dronning Maud Land Shipping Network (DROMSHIP), national Antarctic operators from Norway, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Finland originally cooperated in the rental of ice-class vessels. Since 2009, the Norwegian Polar Institute has had a contract with Royal Arctic Line of Greenland for use of the 10,300-tonne ice-strengthened container ship Mary Arctica. This vessel is state of the art, built in 2005. Because of its load capacity such a vessel can supply stations along the whole stretch of territory before returning to Europe with return cargo, in a single round trip. The synergy effects are substantial, including reductions in sailing time, cost and overall environmental impact.

Norway leads the DROMSHIP project, in which only Belgium and Norway are active members today. Most of the programmes/stations in Dronning Maud Land have their own logistical systems and ice-class research vessels to support their particular needs (Japan, Russia, South Africa, Germany). Other countries, especially those sharing port facilities, have bilateral cooperative agreements (India and Russia, Germany, South Africa, Sweden and Finland). Several countries have built or will be building their own ice-strengthened vessels, which cover most of their logistical needs (South Africa, the United Kingdom, Japan).

The Antarctic stations require large amounts of fuel and supplies. The only way to bring in such quantities of goods is by ice-class transport vessel. By cooperating in the hire of ice-strengthened vessels, the Dronning Maud Land Shipping Network (DROMSHIP) seeks to resupply the research stations of participating nations in Dronning Maud Land in a cost-effective, environmentally sensitive way.

The potential exists for additional logistical cooperation in the region. Working together to ease transport challenges could have positive effects both economically and environmentally. Norway is keen to develop this potential.

9.5 Troll: Future hub in Dronning Maud Land with high environmental and safety standards

Troll is strategically located in relation to other stations in Dronning Maud Land, and is one of two stations in the area with an airstrip. Troll Airfield has better weather and is less subject to thaws than the Russian station, Novolazarevskaya, which lies nearer the coast. As the airfield’s owner and the operator of Troll, Norway has an opportunity to provide effective and safe logistical services to national and international programmes in the area, and to develop Troll as a research platform and hub in Dronning Maud Land. In this way Norway can help increase the efficiency of Dronning Maud Land’s combined research infrastructure and reduce its collective environmental effects.

In recent years there has been interest from Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom in using Troll for periods of varying length. Interest from other countries is expected to increase in the years ahead.

The new ice-class research vessel Prince Haakon will be an important tool for Norwegian environmental observation and climate research in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The vessel will be owned by the Norwegian Polar Institute and operated by the Institute of Marine Research. Its use is essentially to be divided between those two institutes and the University of Tromsø, but the vessel will be a national resource available to other research institutions as well.

The vessel is designed to operate independently in polar waters all year round. It is equipped for all relevant scientific disciplines, including oceanography, marine biology, geology and geophysics. Its equipment will permit sea-floor mapping, seismic surveys, helicopter operations, logistical support services and the use of remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

The Government will:

  • Use the Norwegian Polar Institute’s management authority at Troll to ensure that the area’s overall activity level as well as future infrastructure and land-use developments remain within a framework that satisfies scientific, environmental, logistical and basic infrastructure capacity needs in an appropriate manner.

  • Continue developing Troll as a green station with ambitious environmental goals, and stimulate work towards energy-friendly solutions.

  • Foster Troll’s development as a logistical hub, and strengthen cooperation with other countries to implement efficient new transport solutions with positive economic and environmental effects.

Figure 9.2 Search and rescue map – SSRs and RCCs.

Figure 9.2 Search and rescue map – SSRs and RCCs.

Source COMNAP 2008.

9.6 Search and rescue in the Antarctic

Search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Antarctic must overcome major obstacles. The Antarctic continent is large, with highly scattered activity and poorly developed infrastructure. Though some of the research stations are located near each other, the distances between them are generally very great, and the distance to other continents is enormous. A similar sense of remoteness prevails in the surrounding ocean. The climate, of course, is extremely challenging.

Another special aspect of the Antarctic is that governments have not provided a dedicated emergency service with the resources to conduct search and rescue operations, whether on land or at sea. Nor has any rescue infrastructure been developed on land. People staying in the Antarctic must not expect that the authorities of Norway or other countries will be able to help in case of an accident. SAR in this area is a matter of practical solutions; all who are active there must take responsibility for their own logistics, including safety. Research programmes and other actors must therefore take measures to be able to handle emergencies on their own. This is also the case for activities in the Norwegian dependencies, including Dronning Maud Land.

Binding resolutions have been adopted within the Antarctic Treaty System on insurance, contingency planning and other topics to ensure that Antarctic activities – tourism, for example – are carried out both safely and self-sufficiently. Norwegian activities in the Antarctic are subject to a special set of regulations on safety and environmental protection; see chapter 5.3 of this white paper for more detailed discussion of these.

With regard to air evacuations or SAR operations, national research programmes have entered into a number of agreements, some bilateral and some multilateral. In practice, whichever national programme has organised an activity or programme is responsible for any SAR needs that may arise due to accident or misfortune. Within DROMLAN – the multilateral air logistics network in Dronning Maud Land (see chapter 9.4) – an agreement has been reached on the use of available air transport capacity for evacuation if necessary due to illness or injury. The Norwegian Polar Institute has also arranged to hire in aircraft operators should they be required.

In practice, all available resources are made available when trouble occurs. This applies to mishaps involving research as well as other forms of activity, including cruise tourism and various kinds of private expeditions. For an individual station, rendering such assistance can strain both material and human resources. The same is true for all ships in the vicinity of an emergency situation that have a duty to assist under Article 98 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Norwegian fishing vessels, for example, have taken part in several rescue operations in recent years. One challenge posed by the growing level of activity in the Antarctic is a corresponding rise in the potential for accidents. The situation is especially acute on the Antarctic Peninsula, where most of the tourism is centred.

International search and rescue cooperation is regulated by a number of conventions, among them UNCLOS (Article 98), the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (the SOLAS Convention), the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (the SAR Convention) and Annex 12 to the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention). Convention obligations are operationalised through the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual, known as the IAMSAR manual. Sea and air rescue services are required to follow extensive and detailed international procedures. Through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN has divided all of the world’s seas and airspace into rescue zones, and assigned all countries their own sectors of responsibility. No such division of responsibility exists on land, and Antarctica is no exception.

If an aircraft crashes on the Antarctic continent, the state responsible for coordinating a response is determined by the airspace Flight Information Region (FIR) involved. Norway does not have responsibility for any of the Antarctic FIR divisions.

In the Antarctic, responsibility for sea and air rescue missions is divided in such a way that Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Argentina each have responsibility for an area. Each area has its own Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC). In case of emergency these countries are duty-bound to commence rescue operations in their areas. While the RCCs are responsible for coordinating search and rescue efforts, they have no obligation to develop a special rescue service in the area where they have coordinating responsibility. The distribution of these areas of responsibility has no bearing on underlying jurisdictional areas.

Within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty, there is a great deal of focus on search and rescue operations. The goal is to improve coordination of SAR issues, including the way parties in the field interact and communicate, both with one another and with the RCCs. The main body pursuing such improvements is the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP). Search and rescue is a recurring topic on the agenda of the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). During the 2013 ATCM, a resolution was adopted1 that strongly emphasises cooperation and information exchange between all the relevant participants, including the ICAO and the IMO. The RCCs are encouraged to hold exercises among themselves and with the involvement of relevant actors such as national Antarctic programmes, experts and travel industry representatives. COMNAP’s overview of available SAR resources in the Antarctic is important to the RCCs and to the other organisations active in the region.

Footnotes

1.

Resolution 4 (2013) – Improved Collaboration on Search and Rescue (SAR) in Antarctica.

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