JAMSTEC > Research Institute for Global Change (RIGC) > Institute of Arctic Climate and Environment Research (IACE)  > Arctic Observation Technology Development Group

Institute of Arctic Climate and Environment Research (IACE)

Arctic Observation Technology Development Group

Using New Observation Technologies to Pioneer a World Never before Seen

IACE not only performs studies, research, and simulations in a variety of fields, but also devotes effort to developing measuring instruments and observation technologies. In order to conduct trouble-free observations and collect even more data and samples in the Arctic, which is a harsh environment not only for human beings but also for measuring instruments, the Arctic Observation Technology Development Group uses its engineering expertise in our efforts for instrument improvement, stable operation, and for technological innovation.

An instrument often used in oceanographic research is the weather buoy, which can make highly accurate environmental measurements. For example, these buoys can accurately measure water temperature with a precision higher than 1/100°C. In making Arctic observations, these buoys were embedded into the ice to moor them in a way that might be called tethering to the ice; they have been used to take year-round measurements such as sub-ice water temperature and quality in the Arctic environment. But now there are more marine areas where ice disappears in the summer because of global warming, thereby raising the risk that the buoys will be lost and measurements interrupted. Although recent advances have made buoys lighter and easier to install, the installation of one early-model buoy required about six people and heavy equipment. How to reduce costs and the need for human resources while making observations more efficient is a vital consideration in instrument development.

Against this backdrop, researchers around the world desire the development of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Ships can take people to open water and marginal ice zones, but there are expectations that using AUVs will enable us to make wide-area observations in icebound marine areas, where observations have not been made. In fact, no one has ever seen the sub-ice world. The ability to made observations there freely and safely will surely better our understanding of the Arctic.
JAMSTEC is also developing sensors; we can expect to further increase our understanding if we are able to equip AUVs with sophisticated sensing technologies such as ATP sensors, which measure biological activity, and the pH sensor “HpHS,” which was rated highly at an international competition.

In order to develop AUVs for making sub-ice observations, we started by attaching a self-propulsion motor to an automatic monitoring oat in an attempt to develop a technology that can perform “smarter” observations; however, doing this requires jumping through a number of technological hoops. Finding one’s location in the Arctic is dicult because compasses don’t work there, and trying to communicate with satellites is impossible in marine areas covered with ice. Another idea is to attach a camera to a motor-equipped float and try taking photographs from below the ice, but this raises the problem of how to recover the image data. The Arctic imposes various barriers to performing observations there.

But it’s precisely the many difficulties that make the effort worthwhile.

The development of instruments would make it possible to remotely and safely explore places where no one has made observations, and things which no one has studied. The development of a multiplatform that can respond to any request from any researcher. Therein lies the adventure we find in supporting Arctic research with mechatronics.