Science by hovercraft

Yngve Kristoffersen

Alone on an Arctic ice floe, with a hovercraft

Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean, two Norwegian scientists are adrift on an ice floe, equipped with a year’s worth of food and fuel—and one research hovercraft named SABVABAA (Inuit for “flows swiftly over it”). University of Bergen/Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center professor emeritus Yngve Kristoffersen, 72, and crew member Audun Tholfsen established ice drift station FRAM-2014/15 on the 1.1-meter-thick floe on 30 August, when it was 280 kilometers from the North Pole. Over the next few months, they will drift northward along the submarine Lomonosov Ridge, taking sediment cores to learn about the polar environment more than 60 million years ago. It’s the hovercraft that makes the setup truly unique: Using SABVABAA, the researchers can travel up to 100 kilometers from their floating base, assessing ice properties, currents, and water temperatures. The hovercraft—the brainchild of Kristoffersen and physicist John Hall, 74, of the Geological Survey of Israel—also makes it possible to conduct a year-round study, Hall says. The ridge is covered by thick multiyear ice, forbidding to icebreakers, but SABVABAA (pictured) “allows you to have boots on the ground.” (There’s a video of the hovercraft in action here.)

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