A Canadian Research Icebreaker to Study the Changing Arctic Ocean

A project funded by the International Joint Ventures Fund of the
Canada Foundation for Innovation

The assessment of potential impacts of present and future variability and change in the Arctic Ocean (anthropogenic or natural) requires a significant increase in oceanographic research efforts. Because of its arctic responsibilities and as one of the first countries that will be impacted, Canada should play a leading role in the present international effort to study the changing of the Arctic Ocean.

Canadian experts in arctic oceanography from universities and Federal departments form the core of an effective international research network that has recently completed the highly successful International North Water Polynya Study (NOW). They have designed a co-ordinated science plan for the international study of the Canadian sector of the Arctic Ocean over the next 10 years and beyond. The first element of this plan CASES, is fully funded.

In June 2002, a proposal submitted by a consortium of Canadian universities and Federal agencies to transform the 98-m icebreaker Sir John Franklin into a state-of-the-art research vessel was accepted by the International Joint Ventures Fund of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The grant also allows the purchase of the specialized equipment necessary for the ship’s scientific mission, and partial operating funds for the first 5 years. The icebreaker will allow Canada to assume due leadership in the international study of its own Arctic regions and to become a major player in the building international effort to study the changing Arctic Ocean.

The Infrastructure
The infrastructure consists of the Class-1200 Canadian icebreaker Sir John Franklin, her refit and transformation into a state-of-the-art research icebreaker, the specialised scientific equipment necessary to complete her scientific mission and part of the costs of operation during the first 5 years. At 98 m overall length and developing 10 142 kW, the Franklin is one of 3 sister icebreakers built from 1978 to 1982. Sister ships of the Franklin have proven efficient, versatile and cost-effective ships to conduct scientific research of international calibre in the Canadian Arctic. For example, the Canadian-led International North Water Polynya (NOW) program was conducted primarily from the NGCC Pierre Radisson while the NGCC Des Groseilliers was the main platform for the American-led Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA) program, during which the ship overwintered in the Beaufort Sea. For operations in extreme ice conditions, the Franklin will be assisted or replaced by the more powerful (and expensive) CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent (120m, 20 142 kW). This flexible and cost-effective combination will provide Canadian scientists and their international collaborators with a research platform that will maximise time at sea for the limited operation budgets available. The infrastructure is the key to jump-start an urgently needed Canadian-led international program in arctic oceanography, and will support this program over the next 15 years. Because universities cannot provide the expertise and extra manpower to assume the extremely complex and costly management of a large icebreaker, the maintenance and management of the research icebreaker are left with the Canadian Coast Guard, which, in exchange, uses the ship for its operations during the winter months.

Technical specifications
  • Name: Formerly CCGS Sir John Franklin (new name will be revealed soon)
  • Ice class: Arctic class 3
  • Overall length (m): 98.33
  • Breadth (m): 19.51
  • Draft (m): 7.18
  • Displacement (t): 5 911
  • Power (kW): 10 142
  • Propulsion: 6 Diesel electric generators 2950hp (18000 hp diesel)
  • Shaft horsepower: 13960 hp (15000 with overload)
  • Cruise range (nm): 15 000 @ 14 knots
  • Maximum speed: 16 knots
  • Officers and Crew: 9 and 22
  • Science berths: 46
  • Deck cranes: 4
  • Helideck/hangar: Yes
  • Helicopter: BO 105
  • Internal drywet labs (sq m): 300
  • External lab vans: 8 (110 sq m)
  • Hydraulic A-frames: 2
  • Scientific winches: 5
  • Acoustic well: Yes
  • Internal moon pool: Yes
  • Dynamic positioning (azipod thrusters): Yes
  • Launches/barges: 3
  • Internal communications network
  • NOAA SCS server system

Scientific modifications

Structural modifications for the vessel's new role as a research vessel,
the icebreaker will be modified to include:

  1. An internal moon pool to allow the deployment of the CDT-Rosette & the ROV in ice infested waters and in sub-zero atmospheric temperatures.
  2. An acoustic well which permits changing acoustic transducers without dry-docking the ship.
  3. Bottom mapping multi-beam system EM-300
  4. A heavy-duty (400hp) oceanographic winch & A-frame (10 tons) for the deployment of heavy instruments & mooring arrays to depths of up to 4500m.
  5. A dynamic positioning system including the addition of stern and AFT azipod thrusters.
    Fully-equipped wet and dry laboratories, temperature-controlled units, and microscopy and instrumentation rooms for a total of nearly 400 m2 of working space.
  6. A fast-launch davit for deployment and recovery of a 7.3-m survey Zodiac while the ship is steaming at up to 6 knots.
  7. Scientific landing barge
  • A state-of-the-art data logging and communication network (fibre optics intranet, internal video camera system).
  • 8 laboratories containers.

Scientific Equipment Pool
  • With the addition of deck equipment previously granted by CFI-MEQ, the icebreaker’s scientific equipment pool will include (among others):
  • 2 Seabird Carousel rosette systems equipped with fully loaded Seabird 911+CTD (fluorometer, transmissometer, pH, oxygen, PAR).
  • 4 medium-duty (40-60hp) oceanographic winches.
  • A pool of recording oceanographic instruments (RCM-11 environment probes, Technicap sediment traps, RDI Workhorse ADCPs, Oceano acoustic releases and floatation) to bring present capacity from 8 to 20 long-term moorings
  • A MVP300 moving vessel profiler equipped with a Seabird 911+ fish (fluorometer, transmissometer, pH, oxygen, PAR) providing high-resolution vertical sections of oceanographic conditions at speed up to 15knts.
  • A Sub-Atlantic Super Mohawk remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with 1600m diving depth capacity.
  • Inboard ADCPs and ship-track water monitoring systems for continuous monitoring of currents and ocean surface conditions along the path of the icebreaker.
  • Optical and near-infrared spectrometers
  • 37- and 85-ghz radiometers
  • A radiosonde system to study the atmospheric forcing of sea ice variability.
  • A satellite receiver
  • An open path infrared gas analyser
  • Parcol arctic shelters, heavy-duty snowmobiles, standard snowmobiles
  • A Simrad EK60 scientific echosounder
  • 0.7 (Hydrobios) and 1.0-m (BIOness) multinet zooplankton samplers
  • A rectangular midwater trawl and experimental trawls
  • A Simrad EM300 multibeam echo sounding system
  • A 15 m piston corers, Box corers and a core splitter
  • A shipborne x-ray system for sediment cores
  • A seismic reflection system
  • A scintillation counter
  • A Guildline Autosal salinometer
  • A liquid nitrogen plant

The comprehensiveness of the transformations and the diversity of the equipment pool attached to the ship will make it a versatile research platform able to provide support not only in the field of oceanography but also in several other fields of arctic sciences. For example, the ship will be equipped with the most sophisticated systems for ocean-floor mapping and, thanks to the moon pool and dynamic positioning system, will accommodate drilling operations in shallow waters -- thus providing geologists and paleoceanographers with an exceptional tool for exploring Arctic shelves and coasts. Thanks to the helicopter, the launch and the landing barge, the infrastructure will also provide access to the coastal zone of the Canadian Archipelago to terrestrial ecologists. The transformed clinic will facilitate epidemiological research in northern communities.

AFT Labs & conference room

AFT labs and Conference Roomclick to enlarge

Forward Labs & winter rosette room

Data acquisition & server/printer room

Cross-sectorial approach
The ecosystem-level questions and challenges raised by a warming Arctic can only be addressed though a cross-sectorial approach involving specialists from the natural, social and medical sciences. To further promote this cross-sectorial approach, the proponents of the icebreaker project have proposed a Network of Centres of Excellence that will bring together the best arctic specialists in Canada and their collaborators from abroad. ArcticNet will build synergy among existing arctic centres of excellence in the natural, medical and social sciences. The objective of the Network is to translate our growing understanding of the changing Arctic into impact assessments, national policies and adaptation strategies. The direct involvement of Northerners in the scientific process is a primary goal of the Network that will be fulfilled through bilateral exchange of knowledge, training and technology.

The proposed Network is built around the research icebreaker that will provide oceanographers, terrestrial ecologists, geologists, epidemiologists and other specialists with unprecedented access to the Canadian Arctic. If funded, ArcticNet will become a unique supplier of expertise to inform Northerners of the potential impacts and opportunities that climate change will bring to the North, and to help decision-makers and industry cope with a changing Arctic.

Original proposal to the NCE (pdf)

Partner Institutions
Given its scope and multidisciplinary nature, the science plan supported by the infrastructure summons a large fraction of Canadian & foreign expertise in arctic oceanography. The demonstrated efficiency of icebreaker-based studies of the nearshore land compartment (e.g: Swedish led Tundra’99) is also attracting an increasing number of arctic terrestrial ecologists and limnologists. In Canada, the research icebreaker will sustain the concerted arctic work of 33 Principal Investigators from 15 Canadian universities and 35 Principal Investigators from 7 Federal Institutes in 5 Federal departments (DFO, DOE, NRCan, DND and CMN). Through previous, on-going and planned collaborative efforts (e.g. NOW, CASES) the Canadian Universities and Federal Institutions involved in the research icebreaker project already form a unique and effective national network in Arctic oceanography.

Over 75 arctic experts from 48 institutions in 11 foreign countries (USA, Japan, UK, Denmark, Russia, Poland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Spain & Australia) will also contribute directly to the science plan supported by the infrastructure. Our foreign partners are full participants in the Canadian network of Arctic oceanographers that spearhead the science plan supported by the infrastructure

Thanks to the great efforts of our partners of the Canadian Coast Guard, the modernization and refit of the icebreaker are well underway. The ship is now 100% operational and work on internal laboratories, the internal communications network, meeting room, cabins… are almost completed. The plans and designs for the major hull modifications (moonpool, sounders, thrusters..) are completed. The ship has entered a 12 weeks dry-dock and will be delivered to its home port of Quebec city in early August. Sea trials will be conducted in August 2003. The ships first voyage will be the one-year overwintering CASES study expected to depart on 03 September 2003.

For more information on the Canadian Research icebreaker please contact :

Dr. Martin Fortier
Québec-Océan, Département de Biologie,
Université Laval, Québec, Québec,
Canada G1K 7P4
Tel/Fax: 1-418-656-5233/2339

Original proposal to the CFI (pdf)