Australia’s new icebreaker is on its way home

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The gateway to Antarctica is on its way to Australia in the form of a new icebreaker.

Learn about Australia’s newest icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, as it makes its way on a 24000 km journey to its home in Tasmania, ready for the next 30 years of science in this resource for STEM students. This resource demonstrates the importance of Australian science research, technological developments and engineering designed to last decades.

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Nuyina arrived in Vlissengen, Netherlands to undergo testing before it travelled home to Hobart. Credit: Damen 2020. Image courtesy of the Australian Antarctic Division.

On 1 September 2021, Australia’s new Antarctic icebreaker, RSV Nuyina (pronounced noy-yee-nah) began its 24,000 km journey home. It will sail from the Netherlands, where it underwent testing, to Tasmania and is expected to arrive on 16 October 2021.

Nuyina will replace the existing icebreaker, Aurora Australis, which has been serving Australian and international science since 1989! It is packed full of technology to allow scientists to conduct cutting-edge research from aboard to learn about the Antarctic. It will also be the main lifeline to scientists in the Antarctic, delivering essential supplies between all the research stations.

The journey from the Netherlands to Tasmania is like a test drive for the ship. “It’s going to be an amazing opportunity to see this ship in action, in challenging weather, on a really extended voyage,” said Australian Antarctic Division Director, Kim Ellis.

Once it arrives in Tasmania, the ship will undertake an intensive two-year period of testing, commissioning and certification to ensure everything is functioning before it journeys to Antarctica for the first time.

“In the ship’s 30-year lifetime, these two years of testing will set us up for a very long and secure future,” Mr Ellis said.

The Aurora arrives at King Pier, Hobart, before journeying south. Credit: W.J. Little. Image courtesy of the Australian Antarctic Division.

You can track Nuyina’s journey to Australia on the Australian Antarctic Program’s dedicated website.

In 1912, a wooden steam yacht took people and supplies to Antarctica where they built Australia’s first base at Cape Denison, and the development of science, technology and our understanding of the planet have continued ever since.

For over 100 years, Australia has used ships to learn and explore Antarctica and Nuyina has been built using everything learnt from the previous ships.

Building and sailing an icebreaker is no easy job

In 1987 the ship Nella Dan was blown ashore whilst refuelling. “She was a small vessel with only a single propeller and no thrusters, and a dragging anchor in that situation makes it very difficult very quickly,” said Jono Reeve, Nuyina’s science coordinator who was on Macquarie Island when the ship blew ashore.

The Nella Dan played a key role in the development of Australia’s major Antarctic and Southern Ocean marine science program from 1962 until this incident which put two holes in the hull of the ship and flooded the engine room. Thankfully, most of the expedition staff were ashore at the time and the 17 crew onboard were left unharmed! After this, the Nella Dan was retired and was sunk in deep water off Macquarie Island.

In 2016, the Aurora Australis broke free from its mooring lines during a blizzard. This time, the ship remained watertight and the 68 expeditioners onboard remained safe and well however they had to remain onboard until the weather improved enough to move them onshore.

Preparing for 30 years of science

A ship to take supplies across the Antarctic and host a self-contained science and research hub must be prepared to tackle all sorts of extreme environments. Nuyina is faster, larger, stronger and has more endurance than any ship that came before it. It contains a state of the art platform to conduct multidisciplinary science, both in sea ice and open water and can handle waves up to 14 metres, hurricane speed winds and water temperatures ranging from -2°C to 32°C!

Nuyina is set to take on science and the Antarctic for the next 30 years. Who knows what we could learn in that time but Nuyina is ready. We need our young Australians to be equipped with the scientific knowledge and skills to explore onboard the newest icebreaker.

A render of Australia’s new icebreaker, Nuyina. Credit: Damen DMS Maritime 2017. Image courtesy of the Australian Antarctic Program.

This resource is supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.

The Royal Institution of Australia is the official education partner of the Australian Antarctic Division.

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