Monitoring the intricacies of the earth

Norway is the only country in the world with Arctic and Antarctic territories, a fact that naturally helps shape the country’s research and development agenda. But a long tradition of deep connections with the land has also spurred researchers and engineers to build the capability needed to monitor the intricacies of all the Earth’s systems – whether by satellite monitoring of ice conditions, oil spills and potential floods, or with ground measurements of meteorological and oceanic conditions to help countries predict tsunamis or other natural disasters. Still other research has led engineers to devise new technologies to provide environmentally friendly transportation, save energy, control pollution and limit damage from natural catastrophes.

The International Polar Year
Starting in March 2007, Norway will join more than 60 other countries in the fourth International Polar Year (IPY), a collaborative effort on Arctic and Antarctic research. Previous polar years led to major advances in Earth sciences: 50 years ago, during the last such effort, scientists discovered the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belt and confirmed the theory of continental drift.

 

The upcoming IPY comes at a time when the role of the poles and “conditions in the polar areas are of fundamental importance to the state of the entire planet,” said Prof. Øyvind Hov, leader of the Norwegian International Polar Year committee, and a researcher at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo. “This recognition has great relevance now that the Arctic is experiencing dramatic climatic changes” due to human-induced global warming, he said. Temperatures in the high Arctic have risen twice as fast as the world average, he noted, and Arctic sea ice is melting so rapidly that scientists predict that the North Pole will be ice-free in the summer by the second half of this century.

 

Thus, both Norway and the international scientific community must respond to this urgent need for concentrated polar research, Hov says, so that humankind can understand and predict the course of these unparalleled changes while ensuring sustainable use of polar natural resources such as petroleum and living marine resources. In recognition of the importance of Norway’s contributions to the IPY, the Norwegian government has proposed that Parliament allocate NOK 80 million of the country’s 2007 budget for the effort.

 

There & Back Again
One of Norway’s key studies will involve a very long Antarctic journey. A Norwegian and American research team will take two field seasons to travel roughly 5,500 km, from Norway’s Troll Antarctic Research Station in Queen Maud Land to the US Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, at 90 degrees south – and back again. The traverse will cross the vast, largely unexplored East Antarctic ice sheet, which plays a major role in regulating climate. Jan-Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, will lead the Norwegian half of the joint team. “This is most likely the most unknown region on the Earth,” he said. “Our goal is to contribute to the understanding of how the mass balance of the ice is changing, and to give more precise input to predictions of future climate and sea level changes.”

 

While the IPY will command a great deal of scientific attention during its relatively short duration, it’s not the only Norwegian project that looks at polar and climate issues. The Research Council of Norway is currently operating a 10-year-long programme called NORKLIMA, which explores the ramifications of climate change for Norway. The programme began in 2004 and has an annual budget of roughly NOK 85 million, with nearly 50 research projects that address everything from how global climate change will affect the country’s plants, animals, and agriculture to effects on the circulation and marine resources in the North Atlantic and Barents Sea.

 

Climate change is also an important focus for CICERO, the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo, an independent research centre associated with the University of Oslo. CICERO’s job is to research national and international issues related to climate change and climate policy. CICERO is also one of nine Norwegian institutions participating in DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic Modelling and Observing Capabilities for Long-term Environmental Studies), a European project for providing an integrated ice-atmosphere-ocean monitoring and forecasting system designed for observing and quantifying climate changes in the Arctic, particularly sea ice cover.

 

Capturing CO2 & Getting Rid of It
While Norwegian scientists are hard at work understanding climate change and its implications, Norwegian engineers are busily devising techniques for controlling the problem, whether by capturing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, or by limiting fossil fuel use by developing energy efficiency programmes and alternative fuel vehicles.

 

SINTEF is Scandinavia’s largest independent research and development institute; in 2005, the group’s turnover totalled NOK 1.8 billion. The institute has strong links to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, a relationship that is epitomized by the Gas Technology Center, a joint cooperative between the university and the institute. Roughly 600 researchers are affiliated with the centre, working on natural gas-related research and development, but also looking at how best to capture carbon dioxide and get rid of it. 

 

Norway is home to the oldest experiment involving the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, at Statoil’s Sleipner field, where for the last decade, roughly a million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year have been successfully controlled by injecting the substance into an undersea formation. The Norwegian government has also proposed allocating NOK 860.3 million in 2007 to research and development on carbon dioxide capture from gas-fired power plants and related projects.

 

“The Gas Technology Center is the strongest research centre in the world in this area,” says Olav Bolland, a NTNU professor and co-leader of the centre’s systems technology group. A reflection of the Gas Technology Center’s expertise was its leadership role in organizing the 8th International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Control Technology, held at NTNU in June 2006. The conference featured 500 papers and 1,000 participants.


 
Saving Energy, & Building Cars of the Future
SINTEF’s environmental technology extends to the institute’s Materials and Chemistry group, which features research in hydrogen fuel cells and membrane technology.  The institute’s Water and Environment group is developing compact process schemes for wastewater treatment, removal of organic matter in drinking water treatment, and water treatment and reuse in land-based fish farming.

 

Enova SF takes a slightly different approach to protecting the environment: this state company grants money to municipalities and businesses to fund energy-saving technologies. In 2005, Enova contracted for 186 projects that resulted in energy savings of 2 terawatt-hours (TWH), or about 2 percent of Norway’s 125 TWH consumption. One example of the company’s work can be found in Skien, which with Enova’s support was able to tap the methane gas produced at its landfill to produce electricity and heating.

 

The Norwegian company Think builds unique lightweight electric cars with a global business reach: the company uses more than 700 different parts delivered from 120 suppliers worldwide. The company is also developing a fuel cell/electric hybrid vehicle with Raufoss Fuel Systems as its partner; the Norwegian government has awarded the partnership a three-year, NOK 11 million grant.

 

An Eye in the Sky
Norwegian know-how isn’t limited to the Earth; in fact, Norway currently uses or will use 15 satellites for various Earth observation projects, from ocean current measurements to weather predictions. One of the most important of these is Envisat, launched by the European Space Agency in 2004 as the largest earth observation satellite ever built. A polar-orbiting satellite, MetOp, was launched in October 2006, the first of three that will provide Europe with enhanced meteorological services. 

 

Norway both benefits from the information from these satellites and has developed products for satellite users. Kongsberg Spacetec markets instruments to process satellite data, which can be incorporated into ground stations for environmental and marine surveillance. In August 2006, the company sold an ENVISAT ASAR (Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar) level 1b processor for a Vietnamese ground station system being established by the French company EADS.

 

The fact that Norway has territories in the Arctic and Antarctic gives Kongsberg Satellite Services, or KSAT, an enormous edge in providing services from its Svalbard location to countries that wish to access or download data from polar orbiting satellites. In 2007, KSAT will open a polar ground station at Norway’s Antarctic Research Station, Troll.


The opening of the TrollSat station will make KSAT the only company in the world able to offer pole-to-pole service with delivery of satellite data in near real-time, or an hour or less from when it was first collected.

 

KSAT has also been contracted by a number of European countries to act as an “eye in the sky”, scanning the seas for oil spills using synthetic aperture radar, which can “see” through clouds. KSAT also monitors snow conditions in mountainous areas so power companies can predict snowmelt supply for power generation. The group has also cooperated with NORUT IT of Tromsø on an EU project called “Floodman” to use radar-based satellite imagery to compile flood maps.

 

Exporting Expertise
Norway’s leadership position in developing environmental technologies is reflected in its growing customer base around the world. Alstom Norway, a branch of the multinational company ALSTOM Environmental Control Systems, provides coal-fired power plants and aluminium plants with a unique seawater-based pollution control technology for sulphur dioxide removal from emissions. In the spring of 2006, companies in Scotland and Northern Ireland purchased Alstom’s technology, with the Scottish contract, signed in cooperation with AMEC Group Ltd, worth NOK 2 billion alone.

 

The United Kingdom has welcomed other Norwegian technology in the form of Wood Polymer Technologies, which makes an environmentally friendly substance to impregnate wood to protect it for outdoor use. BSW Timber, the UK’s largest sawmill, will market WPT’s VisorWood cladding, which has a 30-year guarantee against decay. “This product is the next generation of timber product ... with performance, reliability and environmental credentials,” said John Alexander, BSW Timber’s Business Development head, when the agreement was announced in June 2006.

 

It’s not just companies that have found a strong niche in offering services beyond Norway’s borders. NIVA, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, provides research and expertise in the use and protection of fresh and marine waters. Roughly 30 percent of NIVA’s projects are now international, with some of the group’s projects located in Poland, Croatia, Venezuela and the Czech Republic. In September 2006, the institute announced a research project to determine amounts and effects of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and metal factories in China’s Guizhou Province.

 

Norway’s environmental expertise also extends to coping with natural disasters, and detecting them before they become catastrophic. AquaFence has a unique patented product to help communities prevent damage from flooding: portable barriers that link together to provide a flood wall that uses the weight of the water itself to hold the barriers in place – and the floodwaters back. The barriers are in use in various Norwegian communities as well as in Germany and England.

 

Fugro Oceanor, based in Trondheim, offers countries the ability to monitor real-time ocean and meteorological conditions with the use of unique instrumented ocean buoys. “We were one of the first companies in Norway that focused on real-time environmental monitoring,” said Frode Berge, the company’s managing director. Greece uses the company’s buoys in its Poseidon marine network, and in the summer of 2006 ordered upgrades and new buoys in a significant expansion of the system. “This may be the most advanced system for real-time marine monitoring anywhere,” Berge said.

 

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