British Antarctic Survey tests AI weather routing for ice
Weather routing tools are common for ocean-going merchant ships, but they are generally not designed with ice in mind. British Antarctic Survey researchers are working to fill this gap for the specialist needs of their organization, which focus on safe and efficient navigation in remote areas of the Southern Ocean.
The BAS AI Lab is designing an AI-based route planning tool to recommend the fastest and most fuel-efficient routes in polar waters, taking into account ice, surface conditions and weather conditions . It will be tested this season aboard the research vessel RRS Mr David Attenborough (although the captain and officers of the watch still make the final decisions on navigation).
“I’m especially excited to see how he behaves around the ice. There are many systems that can give weather routing on the high seas, but this tool is unique in adding the ability to take ice into account, allowing us to reduce our fuel consumption and environmental impact during the season on the ground,” said Captain Will Whatley, the master of the RRS Mr David Attenborough.
The new tool builds on existing forecasts and datasets, and is continuously updated. Its purpose is broader than day-to-day navigation: researchers envision it as a tool for efficiently planning seasonal routes, up to months in advance. The team plans to refine the model with real data on the ship’s fuel consumption and could possibly integrate scientific missions and logistics tasks into the tool as well.
The route planner is part of BAS’s goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. “The main driver here is to create something that reduces the ship’s carbon emissions and makes our science more efficient. We are really excited about this open source project which we believe will be useful for all ships operating in the polar oceans,” said Professor Maria Fox of the BAS AI Lab.
SRR Mr David Attenborough is a Class 4 polar research vessel designed to support BAS research and resupply missions below the 60th parallel. After a highly publicized naming contest, she was delivered in late 2020 and she made her maiden voyage to Rothera Research Station in late 2021.