“Many of the research projects launched as part of the International Polar Year (IPY), which runs from March 2007 to March 2009, are under threat because of the steep rise in marine-fuel costs. Hundreds of Arctic and Antarctic scientists face uncertainty as polar science programmes worldwide are curtailed, postponed or cancelled.
The price of a barrel of oil has more than doubled since March 2007, from US$60 to $140 now. High energy costs are a problem for research in most fields, but logistically complicated research operations in remote polar regions are more affected than, say, big physics experiments.
“We have reached a point where the collapse of some of our activities is looming on the horizon,” says Karin Lochte, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany, which operates the research icebreaker Polarstern, Europe’s largest scientific vessel.
Icebreakers are usually fuelled by marine diesel oil (MDO), a cleaner and more expensive fuel than the heavy oil used by normal cargo ships. The average price for MDO has increased fivefold since 2003, from $250 to $1,300 per metric tonne (equivalent to around 1,200 litres of diesel). Since January, the price has increased by almost $550 per tonne (see graph).”