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HomeUK NewsRRS Sir David Attenborough completes ice trials during maiden voyage to Antarctica

RRS Sir David Attenborough completes ice trials during maiden voyage to Antarctica

The RRS Sir David Attenborough has completed “ice trials” during its maiden voyage to Antarctica, a key milestone in the ship’s commissioning.

The trials saw the polar research ship tested through ice, with the vessel’s captain Ralph Stevens saying the team was “really pleased” with its performance.

Mr Stevens and his team also performed a range of manoeuvres including reversing, turning and impact tests going into the ice at different speeds, around the Antarctic Peninsula and the Bellinghausen Sea.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which operates the RRS Sir David Attenborough, said the team used satellites to locate suitable areas of ice for trials.

Most manoeuvres were done in fast ice, which is attached to the coast and not moving, allowing the team to work out accurately the amount of energy needed to break the ice, while tests were also conducted in open and closed pack ice.

“Overall, we’re really pleased with the ship’s performance in ice trials – in some trials it actually performed better than we expected,” said Mr Stevens.

“The trials did highlight some issues with the ship which need to be addressed but this was expected – the SDA is a bespoke ship with a complex design, and the purpose of trials is to find the things that don’t work so well.

“The thing that surprised us most was how comfortable the ship was while breaking through the sea ice.

“The bow breaks the ice in a completely different way to our previous vessels and is much quieter than expected.”

After the trials, the ship encountered unprecedented sea ice conditions, of second-year ice covered in a thick 5ft (1.5m) layer of snow, which hampered efforts to reach Stange Sound to deliver cargo to support the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration.

The ship is a Polar Ice Class 5 ship, which means it can break through ice 3ft (1m) thick at a speed of three knots, or 3.5mph (5.6kmph), using a 15,000-tonne weight to break through.

BAS’s John Harper, who was captain of the ship during the ice trials, said it broke through more than nine miles (15km) of second-year fast ice, which was over 6.7ft (2m) thick.

“While it was frustrating we couldn’t reach our drop-off point, encountering these conditions has been an incredible learning experience and has given us the opportunity to push the ship to its limits and really see what it can do,” he said.

Professor Dame Jane Francis, who is director of the BAS, described the trials as a “significant milestone”.

The research ship is designed to provide scientists with facilities to study oceans, seafloor and the atmosphere.

It set sail for the first time in November and will return to the UK in June to fix any issues found during the ice trials and finish commissioning science equipment and carry out trials at sea.

RRS Sir David Attenborough is owned by UKRI-NERC and officials named it after famed broadcaster and natural historian Sir Attenborough, despite a public vote favouring the name Boaty McBoatface.

The research submarine on the ship has taken the name elected by the public.

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