How science and innovation shaped a ship

Polar expedition ships come in all shapes, sizes and colours, but this one is definitely a little greener than most others.

JEREMY DRAKE

5 min read

When, in 1911, the great polar explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the geographic South Pole, there was a great deal of science and innovation he learned on previous expeditions which allowed him to get there safely.

Just a few years earlier, when he had become the first to navigate through the treacherous Northwest passage — linking the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean — Amundsen had been taught by the native Inuit to wear animal skins in order to survive. Previously he had relied on traditional heavy furs which could not deter the cold once they became wet. This new knowledge of thermal science was a game changer for Amundsen and his crew.

Hurtigruten Expeditions has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to redefine the expedition cruising experience for its guests.

The launch of MS Roald Amundsen has redefined the polar expedition cruising for guests.

Inspiration by design

Great explorers like Amundsen listen and draw on innovation from their surroundings in order to succeed. That’s why over 100 years later — during a time when the environmental and sustainability needs of our planet penetrate our everyday consciousness — Hurtigruten Expeditions has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to redefine the expedition cruising experience for its guests.

The feats of Amundsen are a historical inspiration backed by innovation. There’s not many people who have a glacier, a huge chunk of the Southern Ocean or even a crater near the South Pole of the Moon named after them, so when Hurtigruten Expeditions launched the world’s first battery-hybrid powered cruise ship, deciding her name was not going to be difficult.

MS Roald Amundsen under construction in Norway.

From her revolutionary new hybrid powered propulsion system, large battery packs, heat recovery systems and an innovative wave-piercing bow design, MS Roald Amundsen is a vessel that has set new benchmarks for green powered expeditions, and she completes a vision that a young Amundsen himself had for the ultimate polar ship way back in 1882.

“In my imagination, I created an electric ship that could break through all kinds of ice,” Amundsen writes in his diary as a hopeful 10-year-old. “That nice and elegantly, fearful and irresistible, could sail through the Arctic oceans straight to the Pole.”

“In my imagination, I created an electric ship that could break through all kinds of ice. That nice and elegantly, fearful and irresistible, could sail through the Arctic oceans straight to the Pole.” — Roald Amundsen

The hybrid-engine and electric power behind the MS Roald Amundsen was something the explorer dreamt of as a child.

Guests set off on snowshoes for an excursion from MS Roald Amundsen.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Hurtigruten Expeditions’ ships – named after Amundsen and fellow explorers – are doing just that.

Sustainably at heart

In the signature Science Centre on Deck 6 of MS Roald Amundsen, guests can today learn about exploration and the sustainability and innovative work taking place not just on this vessel but right across the Hurtigruten Expeditions fleet.

Four state-of-the-art hybrid engines are supported by large battery packs, which can power the entire ship.

Four state-of-the-art hybrid engines are supported by large battery packs, which can power the entire ship.

Crew on board MS Roald Amundsen scan the horizon at dawn.

Crew on board MS Roald Amundsen scan the horizon at dawn.

According to one of Hurtigruten Expeditions’ most seasoned Antarctica experts Tudor Morgan, the key to innovation aboard MS Roald Amundsen is the deployment of green technology – spearheaded by her sophisticated battery-hybrid system – which has substantially reduced fuel consumption and overall emissions.

Simply put, the four state-of-the-art engines are supported by large battery packs. On most ships, an extra engine would be required when the need for short-term extra energy occurs. On MS Roald Amundsen, however, this is where the batteries kick in, using electric power to deal with the peaks of energy needed – something known as “peakshaving”.

“This means that whenever the power requirement of the diesel engines is at a peak, the electric energy stored in the batteries can be used to compensate and level off those usage peaks,” Morgan says.

And whenever the engines produce more energy than the ship needs, that energy is funnelled back into the batteries. It’s not unlike a huge, seagoing Toyota Prius or hybrid electric car.

This in turn, says Morgan, makes the engines run at optimal load at all times, further cutting consumption and emission, in addition to saving the engines from stress and strain over time, cutting maintenance costs.

Unlike other cruise ships entering environmentally sensitive areas, the ship can operate on its battery power alone for short periods of time, further reducing noise pollution and without disturbing pristine ecosystems. In addition, the batteries can be a source of energy if the ship’s engines for some reason were not functioning.

“Instead of relying on just diesel consumption and greater fuel consumption, MS Roald Amundsen has the option to switch to the clean battery system,” Morgan says.

The heat is on (board)

Like any traditional engine — in a truck or even a lawnmower — heat is an unwanted byproduct. On MS Roald Amundsen heat is delivered back to the ship through an innovative heat recovery exchange, which supplies the necessary warmth to the galley, ventilation systems and infinity pool.

“This prevents heat from being wasted. Even the shower in your cabin benefits from this recovered heat,” Morgan tells us. “Separate high and low temperature cooling networks optimise the heat energy and distribute it to various sections of the ship.”

On MS Roald Amundsen heat is delivered back to the ship, including the infinity pool, through a heat recovery exchange.

Just like a century ago, donning a new outfit (by way of Amundsen’s new thermal animal skins) allowed explorers to travel further and more safely.

Today, MS Roald Amundsen is also wearing a new outfit in the form of a patented wave-piercing bow design that has been tested to perfection. The raked bow significantly reduces the ship’s pitch motions and the resulting wave resistance while at sea — ultimately meaning less fuel consumption overall and a smoother sailing for everyone on board, for instance while crossing waters such as the treacherous Drake Passage.

The patented wave-piercing bow design of MS Roald Amundsen makes easy work of the Drake Passage.

The patented wave-piercing bow design of MS Roald Amundsen makes easy work of the Drake Passage.

MS Roald Amundsen in (very still) open water.

Exploring the world’s oceans and poles is a very different proposition today than during the time of Roald Amundsen and his incredible journeys of discovery.

But they’re also still very mysterious places where innovation reigns supreme and where science and new technologies will allow visitors to push even further into the unknown.

Except this time, there are no animal skins necessary — just a guilt-free, warm cabin shower at the end of each day.

Take a closer look at our MS Roald Amundsen