A genuine explorer spirit has been decisive for the research expedition the researchers from the University of Bergen and Lundin Energy Norway are conducting over the Yermak Plateau in the Arctic Ocean north of Svalbard. Large volumes of data have been acquired, including the world’s first 3D seismic gathered using a drifting ice floe.
With the aid of a hovercraft, the researchers made their way over the fractured sea ice and collected unique information about everything from fauna on the ice, in the ocean under the ice, the seabed, and about the subsurface.
Important geological knowledge
The Yermak Plateau is situated between the 81st and 83rd parallels, about 250 kilometres north of Svalbard, and constitutes the northernmost part of the Norwegian shelf. The main goal of the ‘Fram 2020’ expedition is to gather seismic data that could contribute toward understanding the geology in a larger area of the Arctic. In the Late Cretaceous/Early Tertiary ages, present-day Greenland, Svalbard and Ellesmere Island were a contiguous landmass. Today, tectonic shifts have left Svalbard as the lone landmass on the east side of the Atlantic Ocean. Using listening equipment spread out across an ice sheet, they have succeeded in gathering 3D seismic of the Yermak Plateau which is the extension of the subsurface from Svalbard. This is the first time anyone has gathered 3D seismic this way.
With the aid of 3D-seismic, they can also map the seabed at the same time – the so-called bathymetry.
Large volumes of data
The expedition team consists of just two researchers. Professor emeritus Yngve Kristoffersen from UiB leads the expedition. Chief Geophysicist Jan Erik Lie from Lundin Energy Norway participated in the first few weeks. He has now been relieved by his colleague Espen Harris Nilsen.
The expedition is also acquiring data for a number of other purposes. Among other things, this includes measuring the temperature and salinity of the entire water column (a depth of about 1500 metres). They have also deployed measurement buoys for the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, which will measure the impact of sea ice on wave height and frequency. They are also using a high-frequency echo sounder to register the inward spread of e.g. Arctic cod spawn from the ice edge zone. The echo sounder also registers the cod spawn’s access to food, primarily copepod (Calanus finmarchicus).
Cheap basic research
The ‘Fram 2020’ expedition is unique in many ways. While they are gathering large volumes of data, the expedition also has a very reasonable price tag, where significant research can be accomplished per NOK and per head.
Research in these areas normally involves the use of large icebreaking vessels with extensive crews. In this case, they’re using a light hovercraft and a crew of two people. They have also largely used existing logistics routes to transport the vessel, people and equipment up to the Arctic Ocean. The expedition’s overall budget would hardly cover the fuel needed to transport an ordinary research vessel to and from the area.
Lundin Energy’s interest in the project generally runs along two lines. By introducing the use of new seismic technology, we make a contribution to collecting new data that can contribute to the understanding of the geological development of the Arctic. Basic research is also a form of joint effort where everyone is responsible for gathering and sharing new data. This is why all materials from the expedition will be made available to everyone who needs it.
(All photos by the Fram 2020 Expedition)