When Fugro was contracted to survey cable routes between Svalbard’s main settlement, Longyearbyen, and the research establishments in Ny-Ålesund, Norway, its newly launched coastal survey vessel was the ideal choice for the work. With her acceptance trials completed in the German Bight Fugro Helmert steamed to the survey site, providing the perfect opportunity for calibrations and system tests of her state-ofthe-art survey equipment and for the marine and survey teams to familiarise themselves with the new vessel.
The successful completion of the NYAAL cable route survey enabled Fugro Helmert to demonstrate her capabilities as a modern nearshore and coastal survey vessel. Subsequent projects have included bathymetry in the Norwegian Sea and a longer work assignment in the Red Sea.
Under the contract awarded by Global Marine Systems Ltd. (GMSL), the cable route surveys were carried out along two shallow water routes, each about 250 kilometres in length. Situated between approximately 78° and 79° North, this is thought to be one of the most northerly locations in the world for a commercial cable route survey.
At the Arctic research stations in Ny-Ålesund, which are operated by overseas agencies from different countries, all communication and
data traffic currently depends on high cost broadband satellite links. The new fibre optic cable system, known as NYAAL, will support increased communication and data transfer demands and new radio telescopes for ultraprecise geodetic measurements. The NYAAL fibre optic cable system will be connected to the existing cable link from Longyearbyen to the Norwegian mainland with installation planned during 2014.
Prior to starting the marine offshore work, Fugro had completed topographic landing site surveys and a sub-bottom profiler inshore survey, using a 3D laser scanner in addition to traditional land survey methods. The data provided the basis for precise and very high resolution digital terrain models and maps.
Fugro Helmert’s crew carried out multibeam bathymetry, side scan sonar imagery, subbottom profiling and marine magnetics simultaneously, followed by seabed sampling and gravity coring. The routes featured complex seabed characteristics with steep slopes and gradients. A marine magnetometer was towed together with the side scan sonar, primarily to identify archaeological artefacts (a Norwegian government and archaeology representative was on board for this purpose). The marine work in this challenging Arctic environment was completed in less than six weeks during August and September 2013.
The Arctic is characterised by rapid changes of weather, sea state and ice conditions, necessitating precise planning of operations. Although the survey areas were mostly free of ice, there was always a risk of drifting ice fields, ice flows and icebergs from nearby calving glaciers. Ice originating from glaciers is much harder and compact than sea ice and can easily cause damage to a vessel.
Svalbard, the islands and the surrounding seas are richly populated by wildlife; Arctic plants are very slow growing and highly vulnerable to damage. High priority was therefore placed on minimising environmental impact whilst retaining a focus on health and safety aspects of the operations.
Living and working in continuous daylight over the summer months required acclimatisation by the team members, especially as the optimum weather conditions were often shortly after midnight. Careful planning helped the team to cope with the remoteness, lack of infrastructure and complex logistics.
Efficient route surveys for submarine cables, bathymetry for Exclusive Economic Zone assessment and hydrographic surveys for nautical charting.