Environmental technology - milestones in studying the earth's environment

In November 2007, a team of Norwegian and American scientists with four tracked vehicles set out on the first leg of a 5,500 kilometre journey across the most unknown piece of real estate on the planet – the East Antarctic ice sheet, the most massive continental ice sheet in the world. Their NOK 75 million research project, funded jointly by the Research Council of Norway and the US National Science Foundation, is an important part of the International Polar Year (IPY), an effort involving thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics.

With roughly NOK 330 million invested in 26 IPY projects, Norway is a leading nation in helping scientists to understand the role that the poles play in shaping the Earth’s climate and environment. This is part of a larger commitment that the country has to the study and development of ideas and technologies that will help protect the planet while allowing for sustainable growth. This dedication extends from pure research; like the Antarctic traverse, to more applied technology, such as providing cutting edge facilities that allow nearly instantaneous contact with some of the world’s most important weather and communication satellites; to developing new ways to control environmental pollutants emitted by smokestacks, to finding creative ways to save energy or recycle materials.
 
Exploring the Poles
One of the biggest milestones in polar history took place nearly 100 years ago, when the famed explorer Roald Amundsen planted the Norwegian flag at the South Pole on December 14, 1911 – the first person ever to reach the most inaccessible place on the planet.
 
The Norwegian-American Antarctic IPY traverse has allowed Norwegians once again to travel to the South Pole by overland travel – but this time they drove tracked vehicles called weasels to within 360 kilometres of the pole, stopping to take ice cores samples along the way – more than 700 metres worth in the first field season, which ended in early January 2008. The core samples will help researchers understand how the East Antarctic ice sheet will behave as the Earth warms from human-induced climate change.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that humanity is facing,” says Professor Eystein Jansen, director of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, an affiliate of the University of Bergen and Norway’s largest climate research group. “There are a number of unknowns and too little research on different topics. What we do know about the future is very rudimentary.”
 
Norway has a special obligation to contribute to understanding climate change, Jansen says, because it is a nation whose wealth has been built on petroleum. “Using fossil fuels is the main reason we have a climate problem, so there is a moral obligation for Norway in particular to conduct research to help guide humanity,” he adds.
 
Researcher Lou Albershardt removes an ice core from a 90-metre deep hole during the 2008 Norwegian-American Antarctic Traverse.
© Stein Tronstad, Norwegian Polar Institute
Researcher Mary Albert from Dartmouth College and the US Cold Regions Research Laboratory takes measurements on an ice core taken on the 2008 Norwegian-American Antarctic Traverse.
Mammals, Ocean Currents & Weather
This sense of responsibility has led to the launch of a veritable alphabet soup of Norwegian projects to better understand the Earth’s environment. For the IPY alone, researchers have initiated MEOP – the Marine Mammal Exploration of the Oceans Pole to Pole; COPOL, Contaminants in Polar Regions – Dynamic range of contaminants in polar marine ecosystems; and THORPEX-IPY – Improved forecasting of adverse weather in the Arctic region –
present and future. This last project has Olav Orheim, Director of Norway’s IPY activities, hoping that scientists can truly come to understand how the changing climate will affect major ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream. “There is a lot of speculation about what is happening but very few facts,” he says in an interview in Science magazine.
 
At the Bjerknes Centre, researchers are cooperating with the THORPEX-IPY project, which is being coordinated out of the University of Oslo; they’ve also been working to understand how much carbon dioxide, the dominant greenhouse gas, is absorbed by natural systems. The Centre was also the only research group from Scandinavia to provide global climate simulations to the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007. 
 
CICERO (Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo), a University of Oslo affiliate, is a key partner in DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic Modeling and Observing Capabilities for Long-Term Environmental Studies), a European project that is particularly focused on the interactions between arctic sea ice and the ocean itself. The Research Council of Norway also has a broad-reaching decade-long research project called NORKLIMA, which with an annual budget of roughly NOK 85 million encompassing more than 50 projects ranging in scope from   factors that control UV radiation in Norway to mechanisms for climate adaptation in forest trees.
 
View from the Poles
Norway is nearly unique among nations in having landholdings at the northernmost and southernmost reaches of the planet. This unusual situation has enabled the development of Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), which operates a ground station for controlling satellites in Svalbard, and one in Queen Maud’s Land in Antarctica, called TrollSat.
 
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg officially opened the TrollSat facility in late January 2008, calling it “a milestone in satellite surveillance of the environment.” Data received from the TrollSat ground station will help support the IPY and research conducted by the Norwegian Polar Institute. TrollSat will initially receive data from the European Space Agency’s satellite Envisat as well as from several of the US space agency NASA’s satellites.
 
Norway’s Antarctic research station, Troll, will also be home to a station for the European navigation system, called Galileo, which is similar to the American Global Positioning System. The Antarctic Galileo station will open in 2009, with the entire system due to be operational in 2013. The Norwegian Galileo station at Troll, which will be supported with NOK 130 million during the station’s development, is absolutely critical to the network as a whole, because there are so few alternatives in the region.
 
Norway’s Troll Station, located in Queen Maud’s Land, Antarctica, is open year round and offers scientists a base for a variety of polar research.
© Stein Tronstad, Norwegian Polar Institute
Innovating New Solutions
Norwegians have long found ways to develop creative partnerships that lead to highly innovative environmental achievements. One such cooperative partnership is the work being done by the petroleum company Eni Norge and the International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS), who together have started a new research project called iMARE. The project is designed to increase the petroleum industry’s ability to prevent and limit environmental impacts of petroleum extraction in marine environments.
 
A new – and unusual – cooperation between Ottar, the North Norwegian potato growers association, and Stella Polaris, a seafood company, has resulted in an environmentally sound fertilizer based on shrimp shells. Stella Polaris has huge amounts of shrimp waste, but with the help of Nofima’s Fiskeriforskning and Bioforsk Nord, this nutrient-rich substance is being transformed into an ecological fertilizer. Halgeir Jakobsen, Ottar board member, says the group’s farmers hope to grow ecological potatoes, which makes the new fertilizer particularly attractive. “This project will create a win-win situation for agriculture in the north,” he says. 
 
Finding an environmentally friendly alternative to impregnated wood was the driving factor behind the foundation of Kebony ASA, which uses bio-based waste material to modify wood. The result is an extremely environmentally friendly product, which currently is the only durable wooden material in Scandinavia that has been awarded “The Swan”, the Nordic Ecolabel.
 
Kebony AS is the only Scandinavian company that makes treated wood that has earned the Nordic Swan environmental label.
© Kebony
Controlling Pollutants
Most people think of carbon dioxide when they think of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. And while carbon dioxide represents the majority of the problem, other gases are also contributors. Yara, a Norwegian fertilizer company, makes nitric acid for fertilizer, but these facilities emit nitrous oxide – which has 300 times the greenhouse effect of CO2. After a decade of research, Yara scientists developed a catalyst that will reduce N2O emissions by 70 to 90%. The company won the coveted Norwegian environmental prize called the Glassbjørnen (The Glass Bear) in 2007 for its efforts. “The changes in our climate system demand practical action and Yara’s de- N2O catalyst is an excellent example of how industry can contribute to climate solutions in a practical way,” said Thorleif Enger, President and CEO of Yara International ASA, when receiving the award.
 
The Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) and the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (BIOFORSK) are joint project directors for an innovative cross-disciplinary project to solve international water pollution problems using an integrated water resources management approach. This programme, called Striver, is funded under the European Commission’s 6th Framework, and includes participants from Germany, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and UNESCO.
 
The project pairs river basins in two countries, one in Europe and one in Asia, says Per Stålnacke (Bioforsk), scientific coordinator. “The basins function as test cases with the aim to compare results and methodologies, exchange experiences and widen the horizon and get a more holistic picture. We believe that such linkages can foster new knowledge and perspectives,” Stålnacke says.

NORKLIMA 
NORKLIMA (Climate Changes and Consequences for Norway) is one of the Research Council of Norway’s large-scale programmes. The programme finances projects that help to gain a deeper understanding of the socioeconomic impacts of climate change in Norway.
 
For more information on the NORKLIMA programme, visit

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