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De-Mystifying Polar Lows

As oil and gas exploration moves ever further north, fresh challenges await those engaged in offshore operations. One such challenge is that of making informed operational decisions when the threat of a polar low is on the cards.

06 Feb 2013
Wallingford, UK

So, what is a polar low? It’s a small-scale, short-lived atmospheric low pressure system (depression) that is found over the ocean areas poleward of the main polar front in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Given their small scale, polar lows are generally not handled well by pure model data and therefore could be easily missed, causing an avoidable hazard to high-latitude operations such as shipping and oil and gas platforms. Typically they are vigorous systems that have near-surface winds of at least 17 m/s (38 mph) and the potential to cause havoc to operations in the far north.

Fugro GEOS provides polar low updates on a round-the-clock basis displaying information in traditional traffic light form to indicate green, amber or red conditions. They are sent every three hours (reducing to two- and one-hour intervals for amber and red respectively) to clients such as Fugro Geoteam, whose seismic vessel, Geo Celtic, operates in Arctic waters.

“We have adapted the extant ‘squall warning’ service, used primarily off the coast of Africa,” says Trevor Pitt, Forecast Manager. “Polar lows are incredibly difficult to forecast because accurate models don’t exist.

“However, by using known development characteristics of a polar low formation, satellite imagery and the data from on-board sensors coupled with our expertise, we are able to make extremely accurate predictions. These have enabled the on-board team to make sensible decisions that ensure the safety of all involved and provide a cost-effective service. We look forward to rolling out the system to more vessels working in hostile Arctic waters.”


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