Picture the big polar white – and nothing but water underneath. Mist all around you. You can hardly navigate the Arctic and also Antarctic landscapes of ice relying on sheer visibility: If you need to find your way through the always changing polar regions, so-called ice-pilots have to guide the way. These are boat pilots who collect, research and analyze necessary maps and materials from various sources – a tedious task, and the gathered information might be outdated by the time the ship reaches a place in the ice.
Dr. Lasse Rabenstein, who worked at the Alfred Wegener Institute and at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ), is a geophysicist. He developed a solution for this challenge which does not only save time, but is also very comfortable. “We create real-time high definition maps of ice for navigation using data from satellites”, Lasse explains. Well, that sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? While it might hardly sound revolutionary to the lay(wo)man, this idea holds several advantages for the branch of shipping and will be quite gainful. This is because not only is the collecting of satellite pictures a strain, but when a ship crosses Arctic or Antarctic waters, the density of available data depends on the region – according to state and government interests. There is also a limit to sending data volume which defines the quality of visual representation. “The Antarctic neglects the use of data for the planning of routes”, says the geophysicist. Well, there is an easier way. Drift & Noise take on the job of everything that goes with it – the collecting, the processing, adapting the volume of necessary data and information. Drift & Noise collect, bundle, and update the information every two hours. „With this service, ice-pilots save time and we can guarantee the actuality of their maps”, Lasse outlines their offer. “We have already promoted the system on the Polarstern. Her captain was an old hand, and in the end he said that with all his experience, it would have taken him four days to cross the polar sea – with our technical assistance, it was only two.” Thus Drift & Noise and their system do not only provide a pleasant saving of labour, but the service holds very tough economical arguments: “Our surplus value is mainly the automation. Every few minutes, the new programme checks all data and continually produces updated maps with real-time changes of the situation in the ice. Thus, you navigate through the ice in a more ecologic and economic way”, Lasse emphasizes. That means possible savings. The benefits are as obvious, the market exists – so oh yes, now here we go? “The shipping market is very conservative – this is a challenge”, Lasse sighs – and smiles. The key to success is to convince experienced captains of this new system. But Lasse is confident. “What we have to do is to ease and simplify the ice-pilots’ tasks as much as possible. When they take up our service on board and this service also saves them from doing various other jobs – then I think our prospects are very good.” Isn’t the saying: The shortest way to cross the ice is to navigate around the ice? Well. Maybe this ancient truism will soon be seaman’s yarn.
Drift & Noise Polar Services GmbH
Dr. Lasse Rabenstein, Dr. Stefan Hendricks, Dr. Thomas Krumpen, and Matthias Verbeke are the founders of Drift & Noise Polar Services GmbH. In 2014, from the existing Alfred-Wegener-Institut for polar research and exploration of the sea (AWI) in Bremerhaven, these four people established Drift & Noise, after Dr. Rabenstein had applied for and received a grant from the Helmholtz Initiative in 2012. The product he had developed back then was a tool for the measurement of polar ice. In 2016, the Drift & Noise Polar Services GmbH received a large order, and the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt: DLR) became a sponsor. Today, Drift & Noise have two more employees: Dr. Paul Cochrane and Panagiotis Kountouris, who develop the software and algorithms that enable us to see maps of polar ice.