Polar Challenge: Towards long-term under-ice observations in the Polar regions

The World Climate Research Programme, co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation are pleased to present their Polar Challenge: a 2000km continuous mission with an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) under the sea-ice in the Arctic or Antarctic. With prize money totaling 500,000 CHF, this global competition challenges the scientific community to push the boundaries of polar ocean monitoring.

The cryosphere – Earth’s surface where water is in a solid form – represents a major indicator of global climate change and plays a fundamental role in climate feedback. Despite numerous improvements, the reliability of long-term climate change forecasts in Polar regions is severely limited by the cost and lack of systematic in-situ observations of the sea-ice and underneath.

AUVs – currently mainly limited to the open ocean – are able to collect crucial and high quality oceanographic observations (such as temperature, salinity, pH, etc.) at lower cost compared to conventional observing systems. The integration of recent progress regarding power systems and navigation techniques would expand significantly the range of applications of such vehicles under the sea-ice.

Motivated by the potential scalability, limited risk and cost-effectiveness of emerging AUVs, such as underwater gliders, the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) is stimulating progress in this area by pushing the boundaries of existing observing systems and scientific knowledge in both the Arctic and Antarctic through a Polar Challenge.

The competition consists of the following criteria: 

Main mission (mandatory): 400,000 CHF prize money (~422,500 USD)

  • A continuous 2000km AUV mission under the sea-ice
  • Autonomous and accurate navigation
  • Regular observations of temperature and salinity from the near-surface to 700m

Bonus demonstration 1 (optional): 50,000 CHF prize money (~52,800 USD)

  • Regular observations of sea-ice thickness or draft

Bonus demonstration 2 (optional): 50,000 CHF prize money (~52,800 USD)

  • Successful under-ice transmission of position and environmental data via WIS/GTS

The challenge is open until 31 December 2019. Please make sure to read the related links below carefully and then send all documents to polarchallenge(at)wcrp-climate.org.

If successful, this initiative will make a tremendous impact in shaping climate research in Polar regions. It will extend substantially the current scope of applications of AUV technology in the Arctic and Antarctic and is expected to benefit the wider stakeholder community – weather, ocean, environment, safety, security, transport, energy, tourism, and others.


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