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‘We had expected more melting’: Thick Arctic ice forces Norwegian climate research icebreaker to turn back

The Norwegian research vessel and icebreaker Kronprins Haakon (Crown Prince Haakon) was forced to turn back north of Svalbard after meeting considerably thicker ice than expected.

Thick one-year ice combined with large batches of multi-year ice have merged to form powerful helmets, and several of these are impenetrable to us, said Captain Johnny Peder Hansen.

The ice is still 3m (10ft) thick, in mid-July. Even the researchers’ long special-purpose chainsaws proved hopeless, while the 20,000 horsepower Kronprins Haakon, at a cost of USD $175 million, failed miserably at attempts to push through.

“In the middle of July, we saw a few signs of thawing and [assumed] that spring had come, said Captain Hansen, who for several decades has worked on various vessels in the Arctic. “We had expected more melting.”

Klassekampen, a respected left-leaning Norwegian newspaper writes: “Polar bears were seen on Bjørnøya this past winter –located in the middle of the Barents Sea– which shows that the ice edge was very far south.”

“Winter conditions have changed,” concludes the paper.


Sunday morning, the research vessel and icebreaker “Crown Prince Haakon” turned almost 85 degrees north. They went northeast of Svalbard on their way to the North Pole, but met thicker and more massive sea ice than expected.

– Here are thick one-year ice, combined with large batches of multi-year ice. In many places, wind and ocean currents have pushed the ice together into powerful helmets, and several of these are impenetrable to us, says Captain Johnny Peder Hansen.

The ice is up to three meters thick in the middle of July, nor have the researchers’ icebergs and record-long chainsaws been able to penetrate.

“Not even a price tag of NOK 1.5 billion, over 20,000 horsepower and an experienced crew was enough to overcome the ice in the Arctic Ocean. The ship will be able to go with a certain speed in one meter of ice, in the waters north of Svalbard it was met by considerably thicker ice masses, ”writes Klassekampen .

The ship has been worn in the ice and retreated to gain new momentum. The whole vessel has vibrated when the resistance has become too large. Also large ice clumps at the reversible propellers have created challenges.


Icebreaker headed for North Pole turned back by thicker ice than expected

Background info about the mission organized by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research:


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